People voting On November 7th and 8th, The Independence Center made history after opening as the first “Highly Accessible Polling Place” in Colorado Springs. Turnout was better than expected with close to 800 voters showing up to cast their ballots. There were scores of first time voters, including a group of students from the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind (CSDB). After learning that The Independence Center was going to be serving as a voting location this year, CSDB made the decision to bring a group of voting age students to The IC to participate in a training session by the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder’s Office. Students were able to try out the accessible voting machines, before coming in on Election Day to vote.

First time voter Daniel Ratcliff, who works at The Independence Center and is blind, tells me that he was initially nervous going in to vote. When I ask him what he thought of the process, he tells me “It was well put together. It was very easy. I hadn’t even registered yet, and I was able to come into the room, register, and vote in the same place. And it only took me about 10 to 15 minutes, total.” He was especially happy that the voting machines were able to read his ballot in an audio format. Daniel says that voting is something he has wanted to do for years, and he’s happy to have finally been able to participate in the election process.

Here at The IC, it was great to see democracy in action, and it was especially remarkable to see such high participation among people with disabilities. According to the American Association of People with Disabilities, in the 2012 general election, people with disabilities voted 5.7% less than the general public. That is a huge discrepancy when considering the number of American’s with disabilities and the small margins that often determine the outcome of elections.

For people with disabilities, there are obstacles to voting that most people just aren’t aware of. For example, the lack of transportation to and from the polling place or the lack of polling workers trained in disability etiquette could mean the difference in whether or not someone votes. These factors are why it is so important to have highly accessible polling locations.

What comes next? Colorado Springs Municipal Elections will be held on April 4th and will provide another opportunity to have your voice heard. In some respects municipal elections are more important than both general and midterm elections, because the outcome directly impacts the community you live in. In this election, all City Council member District Seats will be on the ballot, and there will be a host of other matters that will be decided. So don’t miss this opportunity to help shape the direction of your community.