Voting with Macular Degeneration

Voting with Macular Degeneration

Voting in person is an American right and some just need to physically take part no matter what. As the presidential vote nears, many people that want to vote in person may opt out due to the risks of coronavirus but some may also be compromised by macular degeneration.

You can protect yourself from COVID-19 in many ways but struggling to be able to see while voting could pose all sorts of concerns, such as:

  • Being embarrassed to ask for help
  • Afraid to be presumed as old and weak
  • Afraid of falling
  • Afraid of making a mistake
  • Ashamed of using a vision assisted device

Avoid the anxiety of casting your vote in person while afflicted with macular degeneration. There are many ways you can get to your local voting place safely and without fear. Your vote counts no matter what they tell you and no global pandemic or macular degeneration should stop you from getting to the ballot box.

Keep COVID Safe

The insane world we all have been thrust into is here during our presidential election so this means to keep COVID safe. As fear and skepticism swirls on the news, over the internet, and through misinformed talk, there is one thing doctors and scientists agree upon that considerably helps slow the spread:

  • Wear a mask
  • Wash your hands often
  • Watch your distance

Known as the 3Ws, if you follow these you have a good chance of avoiding the virus while voting. Keep COVID safe first and then you can address voting with macular degeneration by knowing your rights as well as some visual assistive options available.

Know Your Rights

Before you attempt to vote in person it is important to know your rights. As someone struggling with AMD (age-related macular degeneration) you cannot be turned away from a voting booth because of your age, condition, or lack of required accessibility at that site. 

There is HAVA which stands for the Help America Vote Act which was passed in 2002. It states that every polling station must have at least one visually impaired capable, voting machine. It was designed to allow every visually impaired person the opportunity to vote independently and privately. 

There is also the ADA (American Disabilities Act) which was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26th, 1990. This act is described by the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division,

“The ADA is one of America’s most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life — to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in State and local government programs and services.”

Even though you may not have succumbed to blindness from AMD, one of several resources to help you navigate voting with macular degeneration is The National Federation of the Blind (NFB). The NFB offers help regarding your voting rights. They can be accessed via the internet but if you need assistance to help navigate the web the NFB can also be phoned at 410-659-9314. The federation even offers, ‘The Voting Guide for Young People who are Blind or Visually Impaired’ to help increase the participation of voters aged eighteen to twenty-four which is typically the lowest voter turnout.

Before You Vote

When planning a trip to your polling place there are some assistive visual device options to consider before you get there. Two excellent choices include:

  • eSight Glasses – These high-tech glasses offer visual independence to help enhance sight all by yourself. Although they are expensive (roughly $6,000) and not covered by insurance, there are payment plans to enable you to obtain these glasses asap. eSight glasses look like normal glasses but feature a high-speed built-in camera that creates high definition images inside the glasses on dual screens to enable full view of the object. Using precise algorithms, the image can be focused and zoomed via a trackpad on the arm of the glasses and battery life lasts up to 8 hours. They can even be adjusted for light sensitivity.  
  • Handheld Magnifier – There are several designs of handheld magnifiers on the market. These devices come with a small screen attached to a special grip which controls zoom and focus. Some smart phones also offer built in magnifiers however for some people the screen may be too small. If a computer tablet is available these can be excellent magnifiers as well offering a much larger screen than a cell phone. 

In addition to these devices, bringing an advocate with you should be considered. Having someone to help you navigate the process could be essential. If no one is available you can try calling your local chamber of commerce or other government agency to see if personal assistance is available. If nothing can be done then go to your polling place anyway and you should be offered assistance by any available poll worker.

At the Site

When you feel confident to get to your polling station, once you make it to the site it is important to alert a poll worker of your macular degeneration compromise. Many poll workers are not familiar with the procedures and rights of the visually impaired so it is probably best to ask for a supervisor. At the site there must be a variety of options you can utilize. 

The Pennsylvania Lehigh Valley Regional News reports on how ‘Pa. has variety of ways to help voters with disabilities cast their ballots’. These are examples of how all polling places should be run.  

According to Northampton County Executive, Lamont McClure,

“One of the biggest disabilities that is an impediment to voting is macular degeneration. And so you could actually change the print size and the color of the background,” 

Lehigh County Executive Phillips Armstrong adds, 

“If you’re not able to really write or sign your name all you would have to do is make a mark on the ballot. But then the person who is giving you assistance needs to fill out the part of the ballot that says they were the ones giving assistance,…”

In addition, if by chance you have learned to read Braille (a form of written language for blind people, in which characters are represented by patterns of raised dots that are felt with the fingertips) each polling place must have this ballot option. 

Voting with macular degeneration can be done. If you want to continue to exercise one of your most precious, in-person, alienable American rights don’t let AMD or any other compromise stop you.