EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. – As Election Day draws near, more polling centers are popping up and this year for the first time in El Paso County, one will be highly accessible for individuals with disabilities.
At the corner of South Tejon and Las Animas Street sits The Independence Center.
“Our building is fully accessible and it’s designed to be as inclusive to all people as possible,” said Courtney Stone, Community Organizing Manager at The Independence Center.
The Independence Center focuses on providing individuals with disabilities independence, but the idea applies to all areas of their lives – including casting their vote.
“Often the information isn’t very clear and it’s not in my language so it’s a very limited place for discussion on what the topics really mean,” said Matthew Ruggles, who is deaf. “American Sign Language (ASL) is a language itself, English is a language itself and there’s no real correlation between the two because they are their own individual languages. It’s just like comparing Spanish to English, or English to French.”
Ruggles said that difference can make voting difficult.
“So when something is in English I have to translate it in my brain into ASL before I really can fully understand it and many people in our community struggle with that translation in their minds,” he said.
While Ruggles has found ways to vote in the past, others have avoided it, thinking it wasn’t possible.
“Honestly, I didn’t think I could actually make it through the voting process,” said Daniel Ratcliff. “I didn’t know.”
“I just really felt as though an individual that was blind, or visually impaired, wouldn’t be able to vote and I didn’t really want to ask somebody to come into the booth with me. I wanted to actually have it private, just like everyone else,” he said.
Starting Monday, Ratcliff will have that option and he plans to vote for the first time using one of the accessible voting machines that will be set up at The Independence Center.
Earlier this week, the Center did a trial run which Ratcliff participated in.
“It would say, ‘if you want to vote for Mickey Mouse press one,’ and I would press one. And then it would repeat it back to me ‘you have chose to vote for Mickey Mouse, is this correct?’ It was awesome,” Ratcliff said. “It was an awesome experience to feel as though I’m doing this all on my own, independently.”
According to the American Association of People with Disabilities, in the 2012 general election, people with disabilities voted 5.7 percent less than the general public.
“It doesn’t sound like a big number, but when you’re talking about the margins that decisions are made within, it often falls within that 5 to 6 percent,” said Stone.
“This is a very competitive election and it’s important for them to have a voice,” said Ruggles. “You have to educate them that if you don’t vote you can’t complain about what things are going on because you didn’t try and make a change.”
The Independence Center will open as a polling place on Monday, November 7 at 8 a.m. and close at 5 p.m. that day.
ASL Interpreters will be available from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
On Election Day, Tuesday, November 8, the center will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.