Voting Rights Forum set for people with disabilities

Published 1:01 am Monday, July 21, 2008

There could be disabled people in Dallas County intimidated by the voting process or unaware of their ability to vote.

That is the biggest concern of William Bowman, president of the Visually Impaired People Organization Inc.

Bowman, through VIP, has scheduled a Voting Rights Forum for people with disabilities Wednesday at 10 a.m. at the YMCA of Selma-Dallas County.

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The forum will emphasize the use of the AutoMARK machine, which uses a touch screen and audio system to help people with disabilities vote independently.

“To all parties that are interested in voting, that gives them the opportunity to be able to vote independently without having to have somebody else mark the ballot for them,” Bowman said. “They don’t have to sit there and wonder if the person marked who I wanted them to mark instead of who they wanted to mark.”

Guest speakers at the event will include Graham Sisson, director of Gov. Bob Riley’s Office on Disability.

Lonnie Williams and Brenda McComb with the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program will also speak about legal rights and sensitivity to people with disabilities.

The forum invites at least one poll worker from each city and county poll, family members and friends of disabled people and political leaders.

Although Bowman made clear the forum is not a platform for campaigning, elected officials and candidates could learn a great deal from the struggles some members of their community face.

Election Systems and Software acquired AutoMark Technical Systems Inc. in January and has, to date, installed and serviced more than 34,000 AutoMARK units in 31 states.

One major fallacy about the machine is that it is only meant for visually impaired people.

The machine allows voters with disabilities and other special needs to mark a ballot. The technology also provides language assistance to voters who are more comfortable speaking a different language or who need help to better understand written instructions.

“It can also read the actual ballot back to somebody that’s visually impaired, dyslexic and those who have a hard time marking ballots for whatever reason,” Bowman said. “If they can’t hold a pen to mark the ballot to keep the line straight, they can use this machine, and the machine will actually mark the ballot.”

For more information on the event, call Bowman at 354-4015 or 349-0905.