Film Shows Barriers to Voting for People with Disabilities

Callen Clark, Reporter

Communications professors Dr. Melissa Sgroi and Dan Kimbrough are set to release their new film “VOTE: The Disabled Democracy.”

The film is a follow-up to the pair’s original film, “VOTE,” which uncovered polling places in Luzerne and Lackawanna Counties with barriers to access for voters with disabilities

“The second one’s different in that we knew there was a problem with Luzerne County. So we wanted to follow up and see if any change had been made, but we also wanted to see if this was a specific issue that was statewide, or was it something that was sort of contained here locally,” said Kimbrough.

Kimbrough noted that providing accessible voting for people with disabilities can often be achieved with little effort and money.

“So if you’re picking a building with a clear barrier to entry, what are you doing to remedy that situation or why did you pick that location in the first place?” said Kimbrough. “The thing is that it’s not a hard thing to do. You just need a little bit of planning and thought. I’m talking about, like, say you have a curb. Go to Lowe’s, get a block of wood. It’s cheap and dirty, but it works,” said Kim- brough.

Sgroi said the filmmakers visited two additional counties and spoke to county and state officials to explore the reasons behind barriers to voting for people with disabilities throughout the United States.

Kimbrough hopes viewers of the new film will be more conscious of ways they can work to help provide access to all voters. Kim- brough said people could simply look around and identify inaccessible polling places and provide that information to county officials.

The professors say inaccessible polling places are a civil rights issue because voting is not a privilege; it’s a right.

“Disability is an acceptable form of discrimination. It may be the last one, but it is an acceptable form of discrimination,” said Kimbrough.

“If I’m mobile, whether it be on wheels or on crutches or whatever, and I can’t get into a building because of a two and a half-inch lip and it would have cost you five bucks for some plywood, no, that’s not acceptable. You’re keeping me out of that place, and whatever is happening in there you’re keeping me away from it. You’re segregat- ing me,” he said.

The professors say the media also has an important role to play to help ensure that all people can vote. Disability, they say, is not a special issue. It’s a subject that must be represented on every news beat.

“I’m talking about an education reporter thinking about and reporting on things like disability and race. That way it’s going to be a regular part of what we see, and hopefully people will be more conscious about it,” said Kimbrough.

“The exclusion of people who are physically different happens because of socially constructed at- titudes. People who are physically different are ‘special’ and outside of the accepted society of the able- bodied. There is ‘special’ education, ‘special’ accommodations, etc., for example, when there is nothing special about any of that. People are people, and they should not be excluded on the basis of physical difference,” said Sgroi.

Sgroi said the fight for equality has been ongoing for many years. “This is not a new idea – disability activists have fought for civil rights for many years – and their work resulted in the Americans with Disabilities Act. Unfortunately, the exclusion continues because people don’t see it. It is hidden because, for most of us, disability is outside of the context of our lived experience.”

Both Kimbrough and Sgroi feel passionately about their new film, and they look forward to sharing it.

“We have received nothing but positive feedback. People want to help ensure that all people can vote. Many times, people have said they were unaware of this issue and now they know of ways they can take action to ensure polling place accessibility,” said Sgroi.

A public screening for VOTE: The Disabled Democracy” will be held Oct. 29 at 6:30 p.m. in Insalaco Hall. All students, faculty and staff are invited.

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