'Smart Voting Joystick' improves accessibility at the polls for the disabled

Local voters with dexterity impairments, senior citizens and others could see an improvement in the technology used at the polls to cast their votes.

Sarah Swierenga, director of MSU Usability/Accessibility Research, collaborated with a team of MSU faculty, undergraduate engineering students, rehabilitation specialists and usability and accessibility researchers and interns to develop a prototype joystick that is comparable to the joystick-controlled wheelchair used by thousands of people in the U.S.

A majority of polling locations utilize accessible voting machines that require a voter to press small buttons or switches more than 1,200 times. Those repetitive motions can cause discomfort or pain and sometimes requires the assistance of a volunteer discouraging disabled voters from participating on election days.

“One of the key rights of democracy is being able to vote privately and independently,” said Swierenga. “We wanted people with disabilities to be able to interact with the voting process in a better way.”

Six people with dexterity issues within the local community participated in user evaluations and the results were successful. The research team will continue their investigation and design refinement with the hopes that eventually they can attract a voting manufacturer to commercialize the joystick. Technology leaders in the Mid-Michigan area could influence the national scene and improve voting for people with disabilities across the country.

“Even a small amount of money can make a big difference in everyday people’s lives in the wider perspective of voting,” said Swierenga.

Research was funded by a grant from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, through the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation and a full report will be published by the end of December 2014.

Source: Sarah Swierenga, MSU Usability/Accessibility Research
Writer: Tashmica Torok, Innovation News Editor.
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