I recently had the great opportunity to participate in an Accessible Voting Technology Workshop aimed at finding creative solutions to “make the voting experience more accessible to people with disabilities.” The Accessible Voting Technology Initiative gathered 32 participants in Atlanta, GA; the group included election officials, designers, and accessibility advocates. We worked for two days to define the scope of the problem, brainstorm on a wide range of potential solutions, determine the best options to pursue, and begin to refine our ideas into actionable solutions.

-Drew Davies presents at the Accessible Voting Technology Workshop. Photo by Jared Marcotte.

Far and away the best aspect of the workshop was the ability to work side-by-side with people who really know the breadth of the issues. I got to work directly with elections officials, who have behind-the-scenes knowledge of running an election. And partner with a wide range of those who have first-hand experience using current-day accessible voting technology – people who are blind, deaf, or rely on a wheelchair.

The workshop participants were divided into four small groups, each assigned a different aspect of the elections process: pre-election information, remote voting, in-person voting, and ballot design. My team – ballot design – brainstormed on a wide variety of issues, and eventually chose to pursue the concept of including more instructional and informational data on ballots, located in context where voters need it most. We discussed adding more specific voting instructions in-line, as well as providing contextual information such as descriptions of the political offices and potentially even information about specific candidates. While this kind of support data would be extremely helpful for voters with lower literacy or education levels, it can also be supportive for all voters.

-Ballot design concept for an accessible touch-screen voting machine. Artwork by Luke Mastrangelo.

During the second half of the workshop we worked on how this contextual information might manifest itself in the most useful fashion, and how implementation would need to differ from paper to electronic (on-screen) voting. Our concepting also spread into how to design the most usable touch-screen voting interface, and imagined the ideal physical form factor needed on a truly accessible electronic voting machine. A lot of really compelling directions came out of the workshop, and I’m excited to keep working to bring the best ideas to fruition.

What’s next? The AVTI will hold a second workshop later in Feb, then have an open call for grants to begin the real work of implementing solutions.

-Concept sketches showing how various personas would interact with an accessible touch-screen voting machine. Artwork by Luke Mastrangelo.

Thank you to the groups who brought the vision of this workshop into reality: the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), and the Center for Assistive Technology & Environmental Access (CATEA) at Georgia Tech University. And a particular thanks to the Georgia Tech School of Industrial Design students who helped us illustrate and elucidate each team’s conceptual ideas, especially our team’s illustration dynamo Luke Mastrangelo.

If you’re inspired by the idea of creating more accessible voting, there’s a great way for you to get involved. ITIF and EAC are calling on everyone, including voters, non-voters, election officials, people with disabilities, designers, engineers, and students, to help us make elections more accessible for everyone. They’ve launched a challenge on openIDEO titled How might we design an accessible election experience for everyone? I personally invite you to join this challenge; submit your inspiration, share your concepting, and participate in the refinement process. Your contributions can help make voting in America a more accessible experience for all of us.