By The Star Staff
The Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities and its Protection and Advocacy for Voting Accessibility Program this week held the first ‘Go Voter’ workshop for people with disabilities to vote in an accessible, private and independent way.
“This initiative is generated by the nonprofit organization SABE (Self Advocates Becoming Empowered) to enable people with disabilities to vote in an accessible and informed way, both in general elections, primaries, referendums, and plebiscites,” said Gabriel Esterrich Lombay, coordinator in Puerto Rico of the Program for the Protection and Defense of the Rights of Voters with Disabilities. “This project is currently being carried out in 37 states in the United States, and [the Go Voter] workshop is the first to create a group here in Puerto Rico. The dynamic is that people already trained, with knowledge and experience in the subject, educate community leaders to increase the number of people who help in the voting process.”
As part of the program’s institutional mission to promote an accessible voting process, the electoral events held by the State Elections Commission, as well as the primaries held by the political parties, are supervised.
“Thanks to the cumulative effect of the educational and oversight work we carry out, in the recent primaries held in Humacao, Aguas Buenas and San Juan, among other municipalities, we have experienced a notable improvement in the accessibility of the voting centers,” Esterrich Lombay added. “Both election officials and the general public are becoming aware of the importance of defending the electoral rights of people with disabilities.”
The acting head of the Office of Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Loida Oliveras, pointed out that the Help America Vote Act explicitly requires that voters with disabilities can vote privately and independently. The Americans with Disabilities Act, meanwhile, requires accessibility and equal treatment in public services such as voting.
“What we are working on is innovative in the sense of illustrating through workshops, that eventually people with disabilities themselves will offer, how important voting is for people with disabilities and how to train others about voting and accessibility in the electoral process for all Puerto Rican citizens,” Oliveras said.