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Bringing the Ballot to the Blind

Filed by Michael Cross in Feature, Local News, News, Oklahoma Votes, Politics.
November 6, 2012

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Today is Election Day when millions of people will head to the polls to cast their ballot for a variety of issues.

For some in our society the idea of voting was an arduous task, but the State of Oklahoma has made it easier for those who have difficulty seeing.

48-year-old Nedra Ruth has been visually impaired her whole life, but today she’s getting the chance to vote completely on her own.

She sits before the audio tactile interface or A.T.I. with her trusty guide dog, Kismet, at her feet getting instructions from Oklahoma County Election volunteer Letty Gass.

Nedra herself works for New View Oklahoma which was formerly known as the Oklahoma League for the Blind and is a strong advocate for those who don’t see the world the same as most of us do.

“I’m proud that I’m blind and I want to be very independent and I want all blind people to be independent and be able to vote for themselves or go to the stores and do whatever it takes to be independent.”

This isn’t Nedra’s first time to vote.

In the past she’s always had to have someone else assist her through each section of the ballot.

“I like this better because it gives you privacy and you can really think about what you want to vote and nobody knows unless you choose to say what you voted.”

So, Nedra slips on her headphones and works the A.T.I.

She uses a tactile wheel to work her way through all the choices from President to the state questions and hits enter when she gets to her choice.

A voter is also able to skip any potion or return to previous sections to review the choices.

Mike Dunn, a jovial 61-year-old employee of New View has been totally blind since he was three-months old.

Mike also voted before having to depend on another person to help him through the ballot, but now he’s completely independent.

“I love it,” he laughs. “You know I really love it, because you can use that headset and nobody else can know what your voting hear it. And I like that)

The audio tactile interface machines were planned for several months with a grant from the Help America Vote Act.

David Dunn with the State Election Board says the machines not only help those who are blind and visually impaired but Oklahomans who are severely disabled as well.

“They can plug their devices in here as well and if they have like a sip and puff device or buddy buttons or paddles or whatever. If they’re not able to use their hands then they can still navigate the ballot and vote privately and independently.”

About thirty minutes after starting the process, Nedra finishes her ballot.

She calls it a wonderful experience.

“The instructions are so clear. The tactile dots on there are nice and it tells you everything you need to know. I really enjoyed using it. I can’t wait to get to vote again.”

New View Oklahoma is one of the largest employers of blind and visually impaired Oklahomans.

Officials there say their thrilled to see a voting machine which provides even more independence and freedom for those with disabilities.

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