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Voters With Disabilities Face Challenges At Nevada Caucus

Dora Uchel standing in front of the Jot Travis Building. Uchel is wearing a caucus observer button on her shirt that reads "Bernie For President 2020 Observer."
Lucia Starbuck
Dora Uchel attended a caucus as an observer at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Jot Travis Building on Saturday, Feb. 22. Uchel observed with her son, Peter Cyrus, and her guide dog, Baby.";

Nevada’s caucus isn’t accessible for everyone. Many voters with disabilities said they have faced unique challenges when trying to participate in the election process, including caucusing. Nevada's Democratic caucus was on Saturday, February 22, and some voters voiced the obstacles they experienced. 

As Dora Uchel arrived at the caucus site at the University of Nevada, Reno, she asked a caucus volunteer where to go.

“I think you have to stay in line. I asked at the desk if you could get pushed up the front, but unfortunately, they want people to line up,” the caucus volunteer explained.

Dora Uchel and Peter Cyrus pose for a photo outside. Uchel’s dog is wearing a red harness. In the background is a brick building with large windows.
Credit Lucia Starbuck / KUNR
Dora Uchel (Right) is with her son Peter Cyrus and her guide dog named Baby outside of the Jot Travis Building, a caucus site at the University of Nevada, Reno on Saturday, Feb. 22.

Uchel was standing in line with her 16-year-old son and her seeing eye dog. She’s blind and attended the caucus as an observer to analyze how accessible the site was.

“Because it is my first time, I want to see how it is, and how it's done,” Uchel said.

Uchel is originally from Palau, an island near Guam, and moved to Nevada 12 years ago. Last year, she graduated from UNR with a bachelor's degree in social work. She said if she was caucusing, she’d cast her ballot for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“I like his people with disability philosophy. He said that people with disabilities are going to run the office for the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and that's what I like. It's like, you're bringing us to the table," Uchel said.

Once inside the caucus site, Uchel’s son, Peter Cyrus, read a survey out loud to her that all of the participants are welcome to take.

“Which one of these four issues mattered most in deciding whom to support today? Foreign policy, health care, climate change or income inequality,” Cyrus asked.

“Income. Although health care is important, but income,” Uchel said.

Cyrus (Left) and Uchel are at a table. There's a paper in front of Cryus. Uchel has a big pin that says, “Bernie for President 2020. Observer.”
Credit Lucia Starbuck / KUNR
Peter Cyrus (Left) reads survey questions and options out loud to his mom during the caucus at the Jot Travis Building at the University of Nevada, Reno on Saturday, Feb. 22.

Uchel brought Peter to provide assistance, but she said she shouldn’t have to rely on her son.

“Peter doesn't work here, you know, he's not a captain. So they should take the initiative, or maybe I should have taken the initiative, but then, I don’t know who’s who. I’m sure they probably have uniforms, but nobody says, 'Oh, I'm so and so, if you need help, come to this table. This is the ADA table where we accommodate,' like when you go to [the] DMV. There's the ADA line,” Uchel said.

Despite the obstacles she’s observed, Uchel plans on caucusing next time.

Barbara Weiss was a participant who also attended this caucus site. She was one of the first people in line and had been waiting a while.

Barbara Weiss is in a wheelchair with a cane in between her legs. She’s wearing a black shirt that has Bernie written on it.
Credit Lucia Starbuck / KUNR
Barbara Weiss caucused at the Jot Travis Building at the University of Nevada, Reno on Saturday, Feb. 22.

“I'm sitting down in my wheelchair, so it's not a problem for me to wait. I brought a book, I brought my water, and I brought my knitting, so I’m set to wait,” Weiss said.

Once inside, Weiss had trouble finding a handicap accessible restroom. Additionally, when people in her precinct were instructed to create groups based on their candidate preferences, that became a problem.

But that didn't stop Weiss from participating. She’s a supporter of Sanders, too, but an even stronger advocate for getting president Donald Trump out of the office.

A hand holds a piece of paper with a list of Democratic presidential candidate names. A blue pen is pointing to Bernie Sanders.
Credit Lucia Starbuck / KUNR
Barbara Weiss prepares to fill out her preference card for her candidate of choice at the Jot Travis Building at the University of Nevada, Reno on Saturday, Feb. 22.

“If it weren't for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Section 8 Housing, I would be on the street, and I don't know how I would survive. He's tried to take all of those away from us,” Weiss said.

The Nevada Democratic Party had a form available if a person with a disability needed assistance, but it had to be filled out 12 days before the caucus. KUNR reached out to the party for this story and they didn’t have a representative available, but they provided a statement: They checked every caucus site to ensure that it was compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act in order to avoid barriers for voters.

Jeanine Mooers has been voting ever since she’s been eligible. She said it’s extremely important for people who are blind, like herself, to be able to vote independently. She’s also an advocate for the blind.

Jeanine Mooers smiles for a photo outside. She’s wearing a burgundy leather jacket. In the background is a brick building, grass, and a bare tree.
Credit Lucia Starbuck / KUNR
Jeanine Mooers poses for a photo outside of the University of Nevada, Reno.

“I also care very much about braille literacy for people who are blind. There's been quite a decline over the years in education in braille. It means that people who are blind have less of a chance of being employed, or gainfully employed. It's very difficult to go through school if you're relying on audio,” Mooers said.

Mooers didn’t caucus this time around. Based off of her past experience, she’d like to see some better training for caucus volunteers.

“I think they're not always comfortable with interacting with us. My mom was with me when I was going to vote one time. The poll worker was asking my mom what was my address, speaking to my mom instead of speaking directly to me,” Mooers said.

Mooers wants everyone to understand that when you’re interacting with a person who is blind, make sure to speak to them directly.

Despite the obstacles at Nevada’s caucus, all three of these voters said they won’t let anything deter them from participating in the 2020 election.

KUNR is working toward increasing our website’s accessibility. If you experience any issues accessing our content, please call our office line at (775) 682-6300 (calls KUNR's office phone line).

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member with Report for America focusing on community reporting and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Local community issues are her passion, including the affordable housing crisis, homelessness, a lack of access to healthcare, protests and challenges facing vulnerable communities in northern Nevada.
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