Voting equipment has evolved to allow voters with disabilities to...

Voting equipment has evolved to allow voters with disabilities to use the same voting equipment as everyone else. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/SeventyFour

At The Viscardi Center’s Albertson, Long Island campus, we aspire to be “the most inclusive six acres on the planet!”

Each day, Viscardi empowers kids and adults with disabilities to dismantle conventional assumptions about who gets to fully participate in our communities, through truly inclusive education, career readiness, independent living skill development, and civic engagement. Together, we achieve this by creating, sustaining, and advancing programs, facilities, and opportunities built upon the principle of universal design — singular, inclusive models which offer the most access to the most people.

That’s why I find it especially disconcerting when people with disabilities go to a polling place and are ushered to a separate section to vote. In New York, we can use equipment that accommodates voters with disabilities, which is terrific — except people with disabilities are usually the only people using it! The unintended consequence is that the voting experience for people with disabilities is “separate but equal,” rather than truly inclusive.

This can, and should, change.

Voting equipment has evolved to allow voters with disabilities to use the same voting equipment as everyone else. Indeed, many cities and states across America use this inclusive voting technology. Unfortunately, this equipment is not made available to everyone.

New York has the opportunity to join other leading jurisdictions and stop perpetuating “separate but equal” voting experiences for people with disabilities. We need our state Board of Elections to certify modern, universally designed voting technology that allows everyone to vote on the same kind of equipment.

This technology has been proved safe and secure, relies on a paper ballot, creates efficiency in voting times resulting in shorter lines, and is user-friendly and meaningfully accessible to all voters. I’ve had the opportunity to try this technology, specifically the ExpressVote XL, as have many people with disabilities across New York. But right now we can’t use it in an actual election because, even though it’s federally certified, the New York Board of Elections hasn’t yet approved it. It is my earnest hope that the board will do the right thing and certify this equipment after it passes all of New York’s laws and requirements.

This is something that is fundamental to our democracy at stake in New York, and not just for the disability community. Voting represents the very heart of our notion of citizenship, and how each member of our citizenry is able to vote reflects the extent to which they are regarded as full and equal citizens. Voting technology that creates truly inclusive voting experiences for all voters is simply the right thing to do; it creates a more democratic and equitable society, fosters more confidence in our elections, and engenders more faith in each other.

There is no risk here. The technology is tested, proved and vetted. It’s accurate, reliable and efficient. Let’s move on from “separate but equal.” Please let the state Board of Elections know you are on the side of equal, inclusive voting opportunity for all eligible voters.

This guest essay reflects the views of Chris Rosa, president of the Henry Viscardi School in Albertson. A wheelchair user since age 12, he also serves as president and chief executive of The Viscardi Center, a New York-based network of nonprofits that educate, employ and empower children and adults with disabilities.

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