Is Rep. Doogan an accessibility expert?

Posted: Tuesday, June 19, 2007

In Pat Forgey's article on Thursday, "$1.7 million voting system gets little use," he and Rep. Mike Doogan, D-Anchorage, concentrate on money and the amount of use these machines get rather than people's needs.

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Does Doogan know anything about Web or computer accessibility? Has he or his staff ever asked any of the people these machines were meant for what they think? It sounds like just another us-against-the-feds rant. For a state where people often remind resellers down south that we are a U.S. state, too, Doogan seems to think Alaska should not follow the laws other states do.

These machines are new. People may not have noticed them, or known what they are for, or if they may use them. Polling places are intimidating, and people sometimes shy away from new ways of doing things. Others may simply be cautious due to security concerns. Many more may feel the machines are for the handicapped only, so stay away. Two elections hardly prove the machines are worthless, especially when in another election they were intentionally not used.

I have not seen these machines, but I do specialize in Web accessibility. Yes, blind users can vote on paper with help, but they should not have to. Those with partial visual impairment may find the text size on the machine easier to read than on paper. The machines' layout may allow those with dyslexia and other cognitive disabilities to better understand a ballot that many of us find confusing. Seniors may find the touch screen easier to see and use than a traditional ballot. They also likely have audio jacks for those either hard of hearing or who need or wish for audio feedback to help them understand in a noisy echoing environment.

Officials should tell Alaska voters what these machines can offer to those with or without a disability. It is hardly fair to judge these machines as failures when no attempt has been made to my knowledge to advertise how useful they can be.

Accessibility is about people and not machines. It is about giving those who want to choose, or need to choose how to do something, the tools to do so. I hope the 86,764 Alaskans with disabilities (U.S. Census Bureau) will write to the Empire or Doogan and let their voices be heard. These machines were bought for you.

Kyle Lamson


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