Disabled voters still deal with problems of transportation and accessibility

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. For the past several weeks, election workers have visited area hospitals and nursing homes to help patients there as well as people with disabilities get on the permanent absentee ballot list.

But for those with disabilities who'd like to go to the polls and vote in-person, there are still sometimes two main obstacles to deal with that are a lot more inconvenient than the long lines the rest of us gripe about.

Stacie Amschler, who uses a walker, went to her local church polling place in Springfield only to find the handicapped accessible doors at the front were locked with instructions to go to the back where there were steps.

"I ended up having to go up on a grass ravine area and someone with a wheelchair might not be able to do that," Stacie explained. "And once I got inside I saw a sign that said 'if you need curbside voting please call this number'. Well, it doesn't help once you're inside. And this was a church with access for the disabled including self-opening doors. But they were locked."

Stacie knows about other problems disabled folks have in voting because she works for the Southwest Center for Independent Living, which provides a number of services for those with disabilities.

And not only do some disabled voters have problems once they get to the polls, but some can't even find the transportation to get there because there are no agencies or government entities that provide wheelchair assessible rides specifically geared towards election day.

"Being able to find transportation that doesn't need a week's notice is not possible for someone who needs accessible transportation," Stacie said.

"There were several companies that stepped up to help with transportation to the polls," added Allison Robertson, program manager for the Southwest Center for Independent Living. "However they weren't wheelchair accessible. So that really crossed out a lot of our consumers for being able to get assistance."

So how much difference do these obstacles make?

A 2016 study showed that the voter turnout rate for people with disabilities was 10% lower than the general population. And while there are alternatives, Stacie said those with disabilities would just like the same opportunities as the other voters.

"I could do absentee ballot but I really enjoy just being able to go out in my community and vote just like everyone else," she said.

Greene Co. clerk Shane Schoeller says disabled voters should have the opportunity to have the same experience as others, and said he plans if re-elected to work with local agencies to solve the problems.

"Finding out who can come to the table to help in the future," Robertson said when asked what needed to be done. "How we can help people get to the polling places, who can help provide the transportation, and then how we can make the polling places more accessible to those in need."

And while progress has been made in making the world more accessible for disabled individuals...

"We still have a long way to go," Stacie said.