You are reading this shortly after one of the most important general elections in our nation's history. You know how things turned out. Since this is being written in early October, I do not know the outcome. This month's column isn't about electronic, absentee, or any other method by which we, and everyone else, cast a ballot. The point of this piece -- after the critical decisions have been made -- is to ponder how we make those all- important choices; not just about which presidential candidate to support, but how we as blind and visually impaired people choose between candidates for all offices.
I've been a student of U.S. politics since well before I majored in political science back in the late '60s and early '70s. From a very early age, I was totally engrossed in Election Day and the final counting of votes late into the night. It is also interesting to me to contemplate the process by which people decide to whom they should give their votes. Add to this the factor of blindness (or visual impairment) and you have a topic worthy of some discussion.
At the outset let me offer a disclaimer: Anything written here is in no way meant to suggest that one of the two approaches I'm going to describe is preferable to the other. I simply want everyone to think about each approach the next time you cast your ballot. They may be summed up as follows:
1. While I have a vision impairment, my decision about whom to vote for is based on the candidate's positions on a variety of issues: homeland security, the war in Iraq, to mention two of the most obvious. That candidate's position on blindness-specific issues is a consideration, but it's only one factor and not necessarily the overriding one.
2. Since blindness affects every aspect of my life and everything I do, my vote is based primarily on the candidate's positions on issues of immediate concern to me as someone with a visual limitation: access to the Internet and our nation's currency; employment of blind and visually impaired people, including the viability of the Randolph-Sheppard Vending Program; and full funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
It goes without saying that many issues not specific to blindness impact all of us directly. Two of these, federal funding for mass transit, including paratransit, and quality, affordable healthcare, are vital elements in living independent, productive lives. Additionally, the economic downturn, which is dominating the news as I write this, will have (if it hasn't already) a profound effect on every American for the foreseeable future. I suspect that one way or another, this election will be (was) decided on how Barack Obama and John McCain responded to the economic concerns of the electorate.
I've said for a long time that blind people are representative of the broad cross-section of the American people as a whole. Politically speaking, ACB is comprised of Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Greens, and independents. (If you don't believe it, you obviously missed the recent lively discussion on ACB-L during the national debate over the President's economic bail-out proposal.) So, it isn't surprising that almost all political points of view are included among ACB's membership.
What's less clear is the role our blindness plays in determining how we vote. If our mindset is that "we are people (and Americans) first," then it is more likely our vote will be based primarily on those issues which are not specifically blindness-related. These blind voters are certainly concerned about our issues, but are far more concerned over the "big picture" issues confronting everyone.
On the other hand, many of us go to great lengths to find out how a particular candidate voted on an issue specific to blindness or disability. It is their contention that how a candidate votes on issues such as funding for the digital talking book program, the ADA Amendments Act, and ACB's legislative initiatives, is paramount to whether they support a given candidate.
In a recent California election, the Republican candidate for secretary of state (the incumbent) was very supportive of, and knowledgeable about, accessible voting machines while the Democratic challenger called for the decertification of those machines because of concerns over security. Many blind Californians chose the Democrat by virtue of their belief that overall, she would make a better secretary of state, or because she was a Democrat. Many others, however, voted Republican -- possibly for the first time in their lives -- based on that candidate's support for accessible voting equipment.
As the president of the American Council of the Blind, I believe it is my obligation to vote for the candidate who will do right by us as blind and visually impaired people. This is, naturally, my personal choice and decision. However you made your own decision, I hope you exercised your right as an American and cast that precious ballot. I've failed to vote in just two local elections in 37 years and I have no intention of missing another election. That should be one thing upon which we all can agree.
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