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Voters With Disabilities Say They Face Problems At The Polls

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There are roughly 600,000 people with disabilities in Oklahoma and come Tuesday, many will face issues at the polls ranging from not having access to intimidation. There are roughly 600,000 people with disabilities in Oklahoma and come Tuesday, many will face issues at the polls ranging from not having access to intimidation.
OKLAHOMA CITY -

There are roughly 600,000 people with disabilities in Oklahoma and come Tuesday, many will face issues at the polls ranging from not having access to intimidation.

Oklahoma law requires people with disabilities be accommodated, many with physical and cognitive disabilities, but those voters said they're often forced to compromise their rights like privacy by having to vote on the curb or the right to have someone help them make sense of a complicated ballot without telling them how to vote.

“Not having that freedom to vote independently; it's pretty frustrating,” Jeff Hughes said.

Hughes, who is wheelchair bound, is the executive director of Norman-based Progressive Independence. The center is home to advocates for people with disabilities.

Internationally-renowned advocate, Nancy Ward said distrust has been sown into voting for those with disabilities. Despite having a hand in writing the Americans with Disabilities Act, she wasn't able to vote on her own for 45 years.

“I don’t have to feel that what how I want to vote isn't what is happening,” Ward said with tears in her eyes. “I can make sure the way that I want to vote happens.”

Ward is the co-director of the National Technical Assistance Center for Voting and Cognitive Access. The NATC works with states and counties to educate officials about how to properly prepare polling places for those with disabilities.

According to Ward, 35 million Americans with disabilities will vote.

“If we all voted, 1 in 6 voters would have a disability,” she said.

According to a 2013 study by a presidential commission, 30 percent of voters with disabilities will have problems voting and nearly 3 million will choose not to vote because it will be a difficult or embarrassing process. Ward and other advocates said a big worry for voters with disabilities is having their votes discarded or forgotten if they aren’t able to vote like those without disabilities.

Linda Shannon, who gets around using a motorized wheelchair, said she's been the victim of intimidation so many times that she doesn't always trust her vote will be counted.

“You don't want people to wonder why your voting for that person or you don't want someone to say 'vote for somebody else' because that has happened to me many times,” she said,

The good news is Oklahoma is better than most states and election board officials said they do everything they can to make sure everyone can vote, including making sure there are voting machines for the disabled to use, although advocates said that may not be saying much.

“This state does OK, but I think it's something that we need to do a little better on,” Hughes said.

In the end, most voters with disabilities just don't want to lose the freedom and independence they've worked so hard to gain.

“Freedom is precious and don't take it,” Shannon said.

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