Are The Accessible Voting Machines Really This Difficult?

I want to sympathize with Steve Cutway, I really do. But unless he can’t read Braille (he apparently can), is slow (I get the sense he’s not), has never opened a bottle or in some other way figured out how a raised arrow works, never got lessons from the adults in his life on what circles look like or can’t understand either official language so is therefore unable to take advantage of the provided instructions, I just can’t.

The story goes that Cutway went to his local returning office to use one of those accessible voting machines we’ve been going on about but was unable to do so in large part because, horror of horrors, things were explained to him using colours. Now don’t get me wrong. Normally that sort of thing annoys the shit out of me as a totally blind person, but in this case I don’t understand the whining.

The audio cues you in colours yes, but there’s also Braille all over the things and helpfully, pretty much every button you need is a different shape a fact which, it should also be pointed out, is made abundantly clear by the audio output spouting phrases such as “press the blue down arrow.” Unless you’ve somehow got the thing upside down, down equals towards you and up equals the opposite direction. Hardly rocket surgery, I don’t think.

I’ll give him this much, though. that big bar at the bottom can be easy to bonk by accident and it is a bit confusing for a few seconds figuring out whether or not it’s select, at least until you apply a moment’s worth of logic to it. The other big button, the red X, is an X. X is often used, particularly when we’re dealing with elections, as a checkmark denoting who you’ve voted for and in this case, some other choices you may be required to make during the process of voting. Selections, you might call them. Again, not exactly the largest of leaps.

I’m also not sure why he was told he needed to press his own button to print his ballot. Every time we’ve done that, it’s either done it itself or has taken some fiddling by a poll worker. But still, if you get a stupid answer to a valid question, nothing is stopping you from asking that question again. Be a little persistent before folding like a cheap accordion, ya tool. That goes for everything, not just this one incident. As a blind person, you should know this. If you can’t get what you need on your own and then don’t speak up and ask for it, don’t be surprised when you don’t get it, partner. That’s just how it works.

None of this is to say that Elections Ontario is completely blameless here. The poll clerks, god bless ’em, have next to no idea what they’re doing when it comes to these things. That’s something that clearly needs addressing through better training. And if he truly wasn’t given a few seconds to molest the machine before he started, that’s wrong. You shouldn’t need much time if you’re of even average intelligence, but a few seconds would be nice. But that still leads us back to speaking up for yourself. If you’d like to look at the machine, it’s not all that difficult to say “hey, I’d like to have a look at that machine before I get started.” Unless you’re in the world’s busiest returning office, there’s totally time for you to do that before you even sit down.

And now, perhaps my biggest question in all this. If you tried something once and it was wrong, why did you do the same thing again when they started things over? What’s wrong with doing what everyone else does? Be patient, listen to the instructions, follow them and complete what is, for anyone I’ve seen go through it, a painless process. Sounds crazy, but it works if you let it.

Steve Cutway, a Kingston resident, voted in advance at the returning office last Friday. This wouldn’t be unusual, except that Cutway had to make two attempts before finally casting his ballot.

Cutway is totally blind. He had gone to the returning office to use the accessible voting machine there, the only one in the riding.

A poll clerk told him that he would need to press the “blue button” in order to print the completed ballot.

“I asked her which was the ‘blue button’ and she said, ‘the button right here’ and I assume pointed to it. That was the first sign of possible trouble,” Cutway wrote in an email describing the experience.

Cutway then put on headphones and listened to an audio message that said “for English instructions, press the red Select key.” Cutway has been blind all his life and has no conception of the colour.

“I thought ‘I’m not gonna know what the colour is, but where is the button?’” he said.

Cutway said he hadn’t been given an opportunity to examine the keypad before beginning, so he didn’t know which key was the select key. He found a Braille “Select” label above what was the select key, but below that same key was a label reading “Help.”

After pressing the button he believed to be the select key, he was asked what input he wanted to use. He thought he needed to press various keys to choose input, and pressed the select key to choose audio. He was then told he would be using “sip and puff”.

“I sensed that the poll clerk was becoming a bit flustered. She thought that if I didn’t do anything, I’d be given a chance to choose another input. I wasn’t, so she restarted the process. Again, I chose the same input.

“At that point, I gave up and my wife marked my ballot for me,” Cutway wrote.

He learned later that he wasn’t being given choices, and was supposed to wait to press the button until he heard the input he wanted spoken.

“Had I been told that, either by the poll clerk or by the machine, my voting experience using the accessible voting machine might have been more positive,” Cutway wrote.

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