Are Your Clients Ready to Vote? Even people who’ve lost their ability to read can vote—if they’re given the right preparation and technologies. On the Pulse
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On the Pulse  |   September 01, 2016
Are Your Clients Ready to Vote?
Author Notes
  • Jacqueline Hinckley, PhD, CCC-SLP, is executive director of Voices of Hope for Aphasia, Inc., in St. Petersburg, Florida. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 2, Neurophysiology and Neurogenic Speech and Language Disorders; and 15, Gerontology. jackie@vohaphasia.org
    Jacqueline Hinckley, PhD, CCC-SLP, is executive director of Voices of Hope for Aphasia, Inc., in St. Petersburg, Florida. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 2, Neurophysiology and Neurogenic Speech and Language Disorders; and 15, Gerontology. jackie@vohaphasia.org×
  • Alejandro Brice, PhD, CCC-SLP, is a professor in the College of Education at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. He is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 14, Cultural and Linguistic Diversity. aebrice@usfsp.edu
    Alejandro Brice, PhD, CCC-SLP, is a professor in the College of Education at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. He is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 14, Cultural and Linguistic Diversity. aebrice@usfsp.edu×
Article Information
Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / On the Pulse
On the Pulse   |   September 01, 2016
Are Your Clients Ready to Vote?
The ASHA Leader, September 2016, Vol. 21, 38-39. doi:10.1044/leader.OTP.21092016.38
The ASHA Leader, September 2016, Vol. 21, 38-39. doi:10.1044/leader.OTP.21092016.38
If you have trouble reading, voting might seem impossible. But it needn’t be.
Mike Caputo has aphasia from a stroke and uses text-to-speech technology apps on his smartphone and tablet to help read the newspaper and emails. The 54-year-old businessman hasn’t voted in the five years since his stroke, though, because no one ever told him that the same kind of technology he uses for newspapers and email could help him read the ballot and vote confidently—and privately—in the polls.
“I never knew about it,” Caputo says. “And all these years since my stroke, I never voted until now.”
Any communication or sensory disability that affects reading is likely to hinder the ability to vote. Helping people to return to social roles—including the role of citizen—is the goal of rehabilitation in general. It also fits squarely in ASHA’s 2016 Scope of Practice in Speech-Language Pathology, which describes the overall objective of speech-language pathology services: “to optimize individuals’ abilities to communicate … thereby improving quality of life”.
Speech-language pathologists, therefore, play a critical role in helping people with communication difficulties return to voting independently and by secret ballot. There are many people and organizations out there that can help.

Speech-language pathologists play a critical role in helping people with communication difficulties return to voting independently and by secret ballot.

Life participation
In the life participation approach to aphasia (LPAA), the life goals of the person living with aphasia, and of those around them, are primary targets for intervention efforts. For many people, fulfilling the role of active citizen through voting is one aspect of their former lives. As a fundamental right and responsibility in a democratic society, voting goes to the core of people’s identities as citizens.
The LPAA uses the World Health Organization (WHO) definition of disability: It is not just a personal health problem, but also encompasses the interaction between the person and society. WHO also states that people with disabilities are one of the most marginalized groups in the world; one example of marginalization is the inability to vote.
Aphasia is not the only condition that affects participation in civic activities. Hearing impairment, developmental language disabilities or acquired language disability due to neurological conditions or trauma can all restrict participation in society through voting and related activities. Physical disabilities can also hinder a person’s ability to mark a ballot.
Fortunately, voting technologies are available that can make going to the polls an accessible and independent experience for people with a variety of disabilities.
Treatment options
The first thing that SLPs can do is to target the language skills required to understand the ballot and ballot issues. Using a printed version of the sample ballot or printed versions of candidates’ or position summaries, the SLP can target reading comprehension in the following ways:
  • Underline key words.

  • Target comprehension of paragraphs by asking comprehension questions.

  • Practice using text-to-speech technology, if appropriate, for understanding written material.

Clinicians can also use the voting and candidate information to target auditory listening comprehension. To target writing, ask the client to write words, phrases or sentences related to information that they read, or to explain their position if they choose.

Voting technologies are available that can make going to the polls an accessible and independent experience for people with a variety of disabilities.

Environmental options
In the LPAA, targeting the environment is a relevant and important way to improve a person’s functioning. Technologies are available that can make the confidential and independent U.S. voting experience accessible to many individuals with aphasia.
For example, the AutoMark is a special voting machine that provides text-to-speech output with adjustable speech rate, magnified visual displays, touch-screen input, paddle-switch input, and sip-and-puff input. The Pinellas County (Florida) board of elections created a voter education video that introduces AutoMark to prospective voters.
Depending on a state’s voting method, some standalone technologies—text-to-speech apps or devices—may be equally useful in helping someone vote independently. Voters in some states—Oregon, for example—are limited to mail-in ballots only.
Polls may also allow a helper to accompany a person with a disability if desired. Although mail-in ballots provide the opportunity to have someone else assist with the ballot, it is the right of every U.S. citizen to vote secretly, an act which reinforces the person’s autonomy and value.
Local voting information
Your local state supervisor or board of elections can demonstrate the technologies that are available in your state to your aphasia group, support group or clinic. We recently organized an open voter registration event at a local community center for people with communication and other disabilities.
You can find your local state election office on the website of the Federal Election Commission. Election boards offer a variety of adapted information; Pinellas County, for example, also has an audio version of its Voter’s Guide on YouTube.
It takes just a few minutes to contact your local elections office. But those minutes could make a huge difference to your clients’ sense of self, autonomy and participation in a full life.
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September 2016
Volume 21, Issue 9