Voting with joysticks and 3-D printed accessible cases for tablet computers housing voting systems are among innovations presented in a new report on making elections more accessible for people with disabilities published this month by the US Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF).
“Innovations for accessible elections” assesses several years of ITIF research and development projects.
US elections make use of a range of electronic voting systems including touch-screen devices and although US law requires accessible alternatives to be offered such as audio, and tactile keys, many voters with disabilities still experience problems using these systems and with voting in general, the report finds.
As many as 47 million US citizens (almost one in four of the voting age population) face barriers to voting in person due to inaccessible devices, it says. Problems include a lack of accessible information about polling place locations; poll workers who do not recognise the needs of people with disabilities; electronic voting systems not set up for audio ballots; and keypads with confusing or unusual layouts and keys that are hard to identify by feel.
Recent innovation projects by ITIF with partners including the US Election Assistance Commission and the social innovation collaboration platform OpenIDEO have led to a range of ideas and prototypes to try to solve these problems.
They include a ballot designed for use on any device, codenamed the “Anywhere Ballot”, presenting information in a clear reading order, at the place on the page or screen where the voter is already focused. Other work investigated use of a “smart joystick” as a universal voting control, after testing found the device can help individuals with a wide range of dexterity impairments.
Following these projects Los Angeles County, the most populous voting area in the US with almost 10 million residents, is using the Anywhere Ballot as the basis of its ballot redesign and is considering including a joystick as the tactile controller, the report says.
A voting system designed to be navigated using only two buttons with audio prompts, codenamed the “EZ Ballot”, was another winner in an OpenIDEO voting challenge; as was an iPad case with additional accessibility features designed to enhance voting applications, such as tactile switches and a built-in stand to adjust the angle of the screen. The design for the accessible iPad case is now available online (download here as compressed Zip file ) and can be built with a 3D printer, the report says.
Ideas such as these have shown promising results but with technology and election processes always changing, access work will always need to continue alongside, the report finds.
“While most elections are more accessible today than in years past, more progress is needed… [but] unfortunately, there is no simple solution”, it says. “Creating accessible elections will require sustained research and funding to continue designing new technologies and processes, evaluating them in the field, and training election officials to use them.”