When I became old enough to vote, I didn’t think I could because I can’t write due to having cerebral palsy (CP). A few years later, I was in an independent living program which taught me many skills that I needed to know in order to live on my own, and one thing I learned is that I had the right to ask a polling person to assist me in filling out my voting ballot. This helped reduce my fears around voting. So, when the next election came around, my boyfriend– Juan, who also lives with CP and needed help writing– and I decided to go vote for the first time. It took us two and a half hours because there was a long line, then when we finally made it to the front of the line, we had to wait for one polling assistants to become free to help us (one at a time). We both were dissatisfied with the process because we didn’t view it as very fair. We felt uncomfortable because we weren’t taken to a private area, so anyone could have overheard our vote. Plus, we were also discouraged when we realized that even if we were taken to a private area, our vote would never be truly private because the person who assisted us would know how we voted. This discouraged us from voting again for several years.
Then, in 2010, I got a job working with the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities. One of the first projects they had me working on was about voting and trying to get more people with disabilities to get out and exercise their right to vote. While working on the project, I learned about a pair of jelly switches– big round buttons that could be plugged into accessible voting machines to help with the process of voting. These buttons are for people with disabilities who don’t possess good dexterity and fine motor control. These buttons can be placed anywhere needed for them to be accessible. One button allows the voter to move throughout the ballot, while the other was to make selections. I discovered these were perfect for me because I could operate them with my feet. I was excited to be able to cast my ballot by myself and in private!
The next time elections rolled around, there were accessible machines at almost every polling place and I was anxious to put what I had learned into practice. So I went into my polling place and told them I wanted to use the jelly buttons to cast my own ballot. They got the polling person who had been trained on the adaptive equipment. She hooked up the buttons, then we figured out that the best place for me to put them was on the foot pedals of my wheelchair. Then, I spent the next 20-30 minutes casting my own private ballot. When I finished, they were as excited for me as I was for myself. As I walked out of the building with my ‘I Voted’ sticker on me, I had tears in my eyes– as I do right now– because it meant that much to me.
Susie Angel has an Associate’s Degree in Communications from Austin Community College and a Bachelor’s in Magazine Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. She has worked as a secretary/office manager for several years and has experience as a job developer/ job coach for people with disabilities. Susie joined Coalition of Texans with Disabilities (CTD) as a VISTA in 2010 and joined the staff as a part-time employee in 2012. She edits and writes for the monthly e-newsletter, co-coordinates Pen 2 Paper, and heads up CTD’s research department. She sits on the advisory boards for SafePlace and the Austin Interfaith Inclusion Network. Susie was raised in Boston and California before moving to Austin in 1987. Her hobbies include creative writing, dramatic performance, mixed-ability dancing, modelling, and watching baseball with her other half.