No “VOTE” For People With Disabilities?

Shawn Kellmer, Web Editor
February 12, 2013
Filed under News

The Misericordia community is invited to a screening of a new documentary that reveals barriers to voting for people with disabilities.

The 20-minute documentary titled “VOTE” showcases the trials that faced people with disabilities as they attempted to vote in the November election. The heart of the film centers around the barriers to polling place access that the documentary makers, Dr. Melissa Sgroi and  professor Dan Kimbrough, both of the communications department, revealed.

Sgroi and Kimbrough decided to make the film because they saw a need to bring voting accessibility issues to the attention of the media and the community.

“I know that many barriers, physical and social, exist for people with disabilities. They are very well hidden from most of us by the standard, accepted, able-normative culture in which we live,” said Sgroi.

Sgroi is well aware of these problems. She has recently earned her doctorate researching disability and media education.

As Sgroi and Kimbrough visited polling places in Lackawanna and Luzerne County, they discovered many inaccessible polling places, something that the professors did not expect.  They had originally intended to  follow a Marywood University student with a disability as he went to vote.

The documentary’s direction changed after they noticed the polling place had no handicapped parking.

“We thought, ‘Well, if this place is not very accessible to people with disabilities, what might others be like?’” said Sgroi.

This question prompted the filmmakers the change direction and go to four more polling places to see if the situation was different. They found that all of the buildings they visited were not handicapped accessible.

The movie also highlights small things that non-disabled people may take for granted.

“All barriers can stop someone with a disability from voting depending upon the nature of their disability and their mobility,” said Sgroi. “At one polling place, the threshold to the building was a little more or a little bit less, somewhere around two inches tall, and it was made of concrete. So if you’re in a wheelchair, you can’t really get over a two inch tall threshold to get in if you’re alone, which we have to assume they could be.”

This was just one of the many barriers covered in the documentary, but they are just a small piece of the bigger picture.

“There are many different kinds of problems depending upon the disability and the level of mobility,” said Sgroi.

Sgroi and Kimbrough also discovered that the barriers faced by people with disabilities are not necessarily anyone’s intention.

“Most of these voting places, if not the majority of them, are in inaccessible places simply because of the age of the buildings. There isn’t a lot you can do when we have to use a very old structure,” said Sgroi.

But through her research, Sgroi discovered that many accessibility issues can be easily, and inexpensively, fixed if people are simply aware of them.

“It comes down to education. Do we just provide a helper outside, for instance? Do we put a piece of plywood down, for instance?” said Sgroi. “It doesn’t have to be major construction to solve these problems.”

Sgroi and Kimbrough are co-producers of the documentary. Sgroi takes credit for the concept, the writing, and the reporting, but there would have been no film without Kimbrough.

“There wouldn’t be a documentary if it weren’t for Dan. He did all of the shooting and editing. So, I would have had to have written about it and not shoot it as a documentary,” said Sgroi. “My plan was originally to write about it, but when I realized it was a story best told visually, I realized this would make a much better documentary than a print story.”

Kimbrough became a part of the project due to his interest in multicultural issues, according to Sgroi.

“People with disabilities are, according to the recent scholarship, considered a minority group,” said Sgroi.

Communications department media manager Dave Thackara served as audio engineer. He recorded Sgroi’s narration and handled all of the music for the film.

“I think Melissa has a passion for trying to bring to light some of the issues for the handicapped that may get swept under the rug, ignored, or just for some reason, not brought to light,” said Thackara. “I think that she’s got a passion for making sure that those stories get told, that those problems get fixed.”

The documentary work will not end here. Sgroi and Kimbrough will return to the polling places in May to see if changes were made.

“We’re going to grow it [the documentary]. We’ll probably take the first part and have to re-edit it into a much broader story about here’s what was uncovered and  here’s what’s happening now,” said Sgroi. “I don’t know what will be happening at that time.”

A trailer of the documentary is available at http://vimeo.com/57074642.

The screening will take place Jan. 30 at 6:o0 p.m. in the McGowan Room of the library.

kellmers@misericordia.edu

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