Deaf advocacy group says deaf voters not given enough access to vote

No Barriers Communications wants video remote interpretation services available at every early voting site

SAN ANTONIO – A non-profit group that advocates for deaf, hard of hearing and deaf-blind people says that deaf voters in Bexar County aren’t getting adequate access to voting.

Kay Chiodo, executive director of No Barriers Communications, says her organization has been getting numerous messages from deaf voters who are concerned about being able to access nearby voting centers. Those who need interpreter assistance, she said, are being told it is only available at one location - the Bexar County Elections Department on Frio Street.

“They would never tell someone ‘if you use a wheelchair, you can only come to one location in Bexar County.’ So they’re angry and they’re upset. And sadly enough, I think they’re really hurt,” Chiodo said.

Yenter Tu, a volunteer with No Barriers Communications, said it’s not feasible for every deaf voter to get to the Frio Street location.

“There are some deaf people who live very far away and have no transportation, and there’s no way to get on a bus, or it would be incredibly time consuming in order to get over here. And so, it’s not an effective way for them to vote and not an equal access the way that any other person could vote,” Tu said.

Deaf people may require an interpreter to vote since English is a completely different language from the American Sign Language they primarily use to communicate. So a deaf person may have difficulty reading the ballot in what is, for them, a second language.

“Most of them who rely on ASL, that ballot might as well be in Swahili,” Chiodo said.

Voters are allowed to bring their own interpreters to the polling station with them. According to the Secretary of State’s Office, deaf voters who don’t have a sign language interpreter who can accompany them, should contact their election officials before the election and request assistance.

The website run by the Secretary of State’s Office also notes that “all polling places in Texas must be accessible.”

Chiodo says poll workers need to be better trained to deal with deaf voters, and that, at a minimum, every early voting site should have iPads that can access video remote interpreter services. Poll workers also need to read the ballot aloud so the interpreter can hear it, she said.

KSAT reached out through a spokeswoman to Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen for comment. The spokeswoman said Callanen would answer questions at a previously scheduled news conference on Monday morning.

About the Author:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.