Alice Rossi, famed socialist and feminist scholar, once said, “The single most impressive fact about the attempt by American women to obtain the right to vote is how long it took.” Yes, it’s true. As women, we fought tooth and nail to prove we had as much a right to have a say in who would be governing us in the White House and beyond as any guy ever had. And, obviously, we won. But what about the voting rights of Deaf individuals? Are Deaf people ever discriminated against in that forum? Well, let’s see what the facts say….
“Deaf people are indeed allowed to vote in every state of the union. However, very little information from the mass media and the government is accessible in sign language, and mass meetings/personal campaigns rarely have sign language interpreters available. Since many Deaf people have difficulty with English (it often being our second language and all), it must be assumed that written information in newspapers and/or flyers will be of limited benefit. Also, very few news programs on TV are captioned. So, even though Deaf people are rarely formally denied the right to vote, they are not provided the opportunity to make informed and independent decisions in political elections.”
Now, granted, more and more news programs and such now have closed captioning available. However, it is still important to note that, if a certain Deaf individual struggles with English, captioning ain’t gonna be a huge help to them, now, is it? So, a lot of it depends on the English skills of the Deaf individual, the availability of interpreting services, and other extenuating circumstances.
All that being said, I’d love to share with you my last experience in the voting arena. I do have to admit that I’m not heavily involved with politics. In fact, I don’t do a whole lot of voting at all. OK, OK. I’ll just say it….I only vote when it’s a presidential election. Now please don’t go sending any mean or critical emails my way. I’m just being honest here. So, my last voting experience was, obviously, in the fall of 2008.
It was Obama versus McCain. Who would win the title in defending the great U.S. of A for the next four years? I was ready to have my say. Armed with a conviction that my vote did, indeed, count, and a mean piece of blank paper and pen, I was off to do my duty.
I arrived at the voting site and all seemed fine. A long line, of course, but I had expected that. As I stood there, checking out the other would-be voters to see whom I thought was on my side and who was a traitor to our country, I felt a sudden and complete sense of confusion as some portly man in a suit two sizes too small came around shouting and pointing. Immediately, as if he had a can of mace and a taser, everyone scattered to form various lines. I, however, stood there wondering what in the hell he’d just threatened people with in order to get them to listen so well and if it could be marketed in a can that I could purchase for use at home with my kids. Needless to say, I didn’t join any lines. In fact, I hadn’t the faintest clue what the lines meant.
After about 10 minutes of wandering the building, looking for someone to assist me, I found a kind-looking woman whom I thought might have an explanation. I hurriedly wrote a note on my paper asking what the lines were for and which one I might need to join. Her response? Blah blah blah blah blah. I hadn’t the slightest clue. Motioning to the paper and attempting to hand her my pen, she shooed me away and walked off. HUMPH! Two more similar attempts rendered me all the more baffled, so I decided to just jump in a line and see where it took me.
It took me, after an hour, to the front of that line. But was it the right line? To this day, I have no idea. All I know is, when I arrived at the front, some woman with a mustache that could rival Adolph Hitler and a demeanor to match, chomped on her gum and spat out directions that might as well have been delivered in Russian. I started to go for my pen and paper, but thought twice. That technique was getting me nowhere. So I simply opened my mouth and shouted (as I always do when I open my mouth—since I can’t hear a darn thing I’m saying), “I’m deaf!” Horrors of horror! You should have seen the deer-in-the-headlight looks I got from everyone around me! “Noooooo not that!!! Run away!!! It might be contagious!!!”
“Not a problem,” one worker said (OK, I have no idea what exactly he said, but I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt here, so work with me), and bent down to gather something very important for me. When he returned upright, he very proudly and dramatically plopped down an enormous book, evidently for my reading (or educational) pleasure. I wish I could tell you it was the wondrous adventures of some knife-wielding zealot who overpowers the powers that be. Alas, I simply don’t know. Why? It was in Braille.
“Um…I’m Deaf…not blind,” I said, handing back his reading supplement. The devil himself could not be as red-faced as this man became. But it didn’t stop there. Oh, no. I was then lead to a “special” voting machine. One that would “help me” with “the process.” I guess they assumed that, because I couldn’t hear, I wouldn’t be able to read a ballot and check a box either. So I sat down at this machine and decided to make the best of it. The only problem? You guessed it…it was a specially made booth…for the blind.
Needless to say I did get through the entire voting process and lived to tell the tale. And, also needless to say, I thank God up in heaven that I will not have to endure that process again till 2012.
Voting. Many fight for it. Others fight to just get through it. I represent the latter.