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Sunday, November 6, 2016

Blind Voter's Accessibility Addendum

Yesterday Julie Deden and I voted at the Arapahoe Library Branch at South Glen using the new Universal Voting System (UVS) by Dominion that is in use now in 18 Colorado counties and will eventually be used in all 64 counties. I was reminded of a couple other problems with the system in terms of nonvisual access to Private, independent voting:, so we can add these to the list:

  • I got over-anxious once when I entered the vote and it read again the vote - such as Colorado House District Number xx. I hit the right arrow instead of the down-arrow to read the choices, and it took me into an options menu for text size. A left arrow took me back to the election announcement, and I was able from there to proceed with the vote. Not a big deal, and obviously, nothing told me to make that gesture, but then, nothing told me that anything would happen or would be possible if I did make that gesture.
  • When entering an election, say for U.S. Representative, the system does not announce how many choices you will have. This may not always be a problem, but if you get to an election in which you don't like any of the first choices, and want to see if there are any Independent or so-called third-party candidates, once you arrow past the last choice, you are immediately advanced to the next election. You can move back to that vote, but it's irritating because the system behaves differently if you have made a selection in a vote. Then, you must down-arrow twice to go to the next vote.

Review mode

  • When you enter the Review option at the end of your ballot, the system will tell you if their are "Warnings" for any of the items on the ballot, but won't tell you what they are. I intentionally undervoted one election, but since the system said the plural "warnings" I went back to check. After all, there were a lot of judges up for retention. But the system didn't take me back to the votes for which the "warnings" were issued, I had to go through the entire ballot with its 38 elections to check. When I went back to Review, it gave me the “There are warnings” message once again. Not helpful at all.
  • I couldn't print my ballot independently. It could be because the instructions in Review Mode are ambiguous. I tried to go to Voter Options, but nothing happened. I had to have the poll worker use the touch screen to do it, and I don't know if my votes were exposed at that point or not.

The Dominion system is going to be with us for a while in Colorado, but it clearly lacks top-notch software engineering, and since that’s really what Dominion is selling, we need to bring pressure on them and on the Secretary of State to bring this product up to standard, and fast!

So, armed with these few tips, go out and vote your conscience!

Friday, November 4, 2016

A Blind Voter's User Guide to Colorado's Less Accessible New Voting System

by Dan Burke

The 2016 election Is only four days away, and if you haven't voted already you may yet encounter Colorado's new Universal Voting System (UVS) being used in 18 of the 64 counties.  For some blind voters, the new system will mean a step backwards with respect to independent, private nonvisual accessibility required under the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA). This is because on December 31, 2015, Secretary of State Wayne Williams signed a contract with a single source provider of Colorado's UVS, the culmination of three years' work to establish one voting system for the entire state. Over the next couple of years, all 64 Colorado counties will go to this system.

The system, however, doesn't fully meet the HAVA standard.

How we got to this point in Colorado was the subject of a resolution at our convention last weekend, and will be the subject of another blog post. For now, let's get to the voting part.

The single provider is a  company called Dominion and uses an off-the-shelf Android tablet with its proprietary software installed. Now, whether you are an Apple user or Android user, we all have to agree that Android accessibility has improved greatly in the last couple of years. Dominion's design, however, overrides Android's accessibility features, so the touch screen is out as a possibility for voting nonvisually. This also means that if there's something that occurs the voter doesn't intend or, as happened to me the first time, doesn't understand, you will have to a Poll Judge to assist you. If they assist you, they will have to turn on the screen and thus your votes may be visible to others.

Not private. Not independent.

In the Denver Chapter, we had the Arapahoe County Clerk Matt Crane bring the machine to our October meeting, and I had a couple of chances, along with Chris Parsons, to test it out before that. So here are a couple of other things to be on the lookout for if your county is using the Dominion system this year:

  1. A blind voter cannot initiate his or her vote. That has to be done by a poll worker. Not independent.
  2. You won't touch the screen. Rather, don't touch the screen. The Android "Explore by Touch" feature is not working. To get anything on the screen to talk, you have to touch it straight on. Sliding around or flicking won't make it talk.
  3. You will navigate with a piece of hardware, either a joy stick or something like a game controller. The joy stick doesn't have a select putton, and the controller's layout is illogical - at least to me, so take your time and listen to the instructions.
  4. At least in Arapahoe County, two voices are used, one to announce certain things, like which election you are in, and another to announce the choice or candidate. The trouble is that the second voice is a lower tone and harder to hear. It may be very hard to hear in a noisy polling place. Arapahoe County personnel were going to try to find a solution, but they have over 50 of these machines, so finding it also means finding the time to update all of those machines. The ballots were mailed two days after our Chapter meeting.
  5. When voting with the joy stick, the motions are consistent and should be comfortable before long. That is, until you get to the end of the ballot, then the muscle memory you've developed has to be thrown out the window because the movements to choose things suddenly and inexplicably change. Don't be impatient like me, listen to the directions at the end as you finalize and prepare to print your vote! If you don't you can get into amaddening loop from which you can't seem to escape. Again, you're going to have to call a poll worker to bail you out, and they're going to have to turn the screen back on to take you to the end, once again exposing your vote. Not independent. Not private.

Of course, one of the obvious and important bits of advice any year, and especially this year, is to study the important issues in advance. There are a lot of ballot issues on a statewide basis, and a lot more in some voting jurisdictions.

And give yourself time to vote. It's going to be a long ballot whether you study or not, so try to carve out enough time to get through it without feeling rushed. This is especially true if you are going to find yourself using a new voting system.

Call your county clerk's office or check the clerk's web site to get info about voting centers near you. Remember, polling places are already open around the state and many will be open for a few hours on Saturday.

The local issues on your ballot are explained in a TABOR document mailed to registered voters by each county clerk. TABOR stands for the Taxpayers' Bill of Rights, and you can probably find a readable document (probably a PDF) on the county clerk's web site, too.

There are a number of ways to get info on statewide issues prior to going to the polling place. Here are some links that can help:

The Colorado Voters' Bluebook is published for every election by the Legislative Council. Accessible versions of the Bluebook in PDF or MP3 are offered by the Colorado Talking Book Library. The link leads to a page where you can read either format online.

And here's a link CTBL provided to download the entire MP3 version from DropBox.

You can also listen online to the League of Women Voters Ballot Issues publication.

Many statewide and local judges are on the ballot for retension or not. You can read about all of the 2016 Judicial Performance Evaluations that are going to be on your ballot.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Our 2016 Legislative Memorandum

(Editors’ Note:  Each year the NFB of Colorado takes its legislative concerns to the Capitol and visits the offices of each of the Colorado General Assembly’s 100 members.  This year, the Assembly opened its session on Wednesday, January 13, and the NFB was there the next day.  We didn’t have time to waste as there are two bills affecting the blind that came out of last year’s Interim Study Committee on Vocational Rehabilitation Services for the Blind, and we needed to get our message to our representatives as soon as possible.  Below is President Scott LaBarre’s Memorandum to Assembly members.)


To:       The Members of the Colorado General Assembly
From:   The Members of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado
Date:   January 14, 2016
Re:       Legislative Concerns of Blind Citizens


The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) is the oldest and largest organization of the blind in the United States and in Colorado.  The primary mission of the Federation is to allow the blind to live the lives they want in all areas of life from ensuring basic civil rights to securing employment and education for the blind.  Founded officially in 1955, the NFB of Colorado engages in a number of programs specifically designed to create greater opportunities for the blind.  For example, the Federation is the chief sponsor of the Colorado Center for the Blind.  The Colorado Center provides training in the alternative skills blind people need to become fully participating members of society.  Additionally, NFB offers national and statewide scholarships.  We also provide a free talking newspaper called NFB-NEWSLINE® which allows the blind of our state to read the daily newspaper just as easily as their sighted peers.  We advocate for the rights of the blind in all areas ranging from education to employment.  Where positive changes are happening in the blindness field, there is a good chance that the Federation is involved.


First, we wish to express publicly our sincerest gratitude for the work performed by the 2015 Interim Study Committee on Vocational Rehabilitation Services for the Blind under the leadership of Representative Jessie Danielson (Chair), Senator David Balmer (Vice-Chair), Senator Aguilar, Senator Lundberg, Representative Primavera, and Representative Windholz.  Second, we urge this Assembly to adopt H.B. 1048, recommended by the Interim Committee and which would expand the scope of Colorado’s Randolph-Sheppard Program for blind entrepreneurs.  Third, likewise we urge passage of H.B. 1037, also forwarded by the Interim Committee, which would create tax credits for the hiring of blind employees and additional tax credits for employer- purchased assistive technology for blind employees.  Fourth, we strongly support continued state funding for NFB-NEWSLINE® which brings daily newspapers and other periodicals to the blind of Colorado in accessible formats. 

For further information contact:
Scott C. LaBarre, President
National Federation of the Blind of Colorado
Phone: 303 504-5979
Fax: 303 757-3640


Last year at this time, the NFB of Colorado called for an interim study committee to examine the most efficacious delivery of vocational rehabilitation services for the blind in our state.  Representative Pete Lee and Senator Michael Merrifield officially sponsored a request for such a committee.

Ultimately the Vocational Rehabilitation Services for the Blind Interim Study Committee (the Committee) was created pursuant to Interim Committee Letter 2015-3.  The purpose of the committee was to determine the most effective structure and delivery model for vocational rehabilitation services for the blind when Colorado's Vocational Rehabilitation Program is transferred to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) on July 1 of this year, following the passage of Senate Bill 15-239. Specifically, the interim study committee was mandated to make  recommendations based on the following: the findings and recommendations of the November 2013 legislative audit concerning oversight and accountability of the Vocational Rehabilitation Program; an evaluation of delays in the delivery of vocational rehabilitation services for the blind; an assessment of the efficacy of the application, receipt, and use of the federal Rehabilitation Act "110" funding for the blind; the consideration of any and all issues identified in the National Federation of the Blind Colorado (NFBCO) Resolution 2014-7 and Resolution 2014-4; and consideration of any other issues related to the effective delivery of vocational rehabilitation services to the blind to assist them in obtaining job skills and long-term high-paying jobs.

Comprised of Representative Jessie Danielson (Chair), Senator David Balmer (Vice-Chair), Senators Lundberg and Aguilar, and Representatives Primavera and Windholz, the Committee conducted six meetings during the interim and heard from dozens of witnesses and collected substantial aural and written testimony.  The Committee first recommended a bill to create a statutorily separate vocational rehabilitation unit for the blind but later withdrew that bill when CDLE announced that it would administratively create a separate unit for the blind effective January 1st of 2016, long before any legislation could do so.  It should be noted that the NFB of Colorado has been extremely pleased with the leadership of Executive Director Ellen Golombek and her staff from CDLE who are working vigorously to create better opportunities for the blind of Colorado.

Second, the Committee officially voted to forward a bill, H.B. 1048 that would expand the scope of Colorado’s Randolph-Sheppard Program by extending said program to state higher education and the State Fair Authority.  As described fully elsewhere in this memo, the NFBCO strongly supports this legislation and urges its passage.

Third, the Committee also forward to this Assembly a bill, H.B. 1037 that would create tax credits to employers who hire blind individuals and employers who purchase assistive technology for those employees.  As fully described elsewhere in this Memo, the Federation wholly endorses this legislation and recommends its passage.  We salute the Interim Committee and express our gratitude for its important work! 


In 1936, Congress adopted the Randolph-Sheppard Act which has led to the most successful employment program for the blind in our nation’s history.  The Act creates a priority for duly licensed blind business owners to operate vending facilities and other businesses on federal property.  Here in Colorado, the Program is managed by the Business Enterprise Program of the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation soon to be housed in the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE).  In addition to a priority on federal property, Colorado grants such a priority to licensed blind operators on state properties.  However, Colorado higher education and the State Fair Authority have previously been exempted from this priority.

As recommended by the Vocational Rehabilitation Services for the Blind Interim Committee and in recognition of the urgent need to create greater employment for the blind, House Bill 16-1048 removes an existing statutory exemption for property owned, leased, or occupied by higher education institutions or the State Fair Authority, thereby granting priority to persons who are blind and licensed vendors to operate vending facilities on these properties. The bill also expands the scope of the program so that persons who are blind may also operate businesses other than vending facilities on state property.  The bill requires the program changes to be implemented within existing appropriations to the CDLE.

The NFB of Colorado strongly supports H.B. 1048 and urges its adoption.  We stand ready to work with all stake holders to implement this legislation in an effective and responsible manner.  We are confident that this will greatly improve employment opportunities for tblind of our state.


Despite important societal advancements in the employment of those who are blind or otherwise disabled, the working age blind still face an unemployment rate exceeding seventy percent.  In response to this critical lack of opportunity, the 2015 Vocational Rehabilitation Services for the Blind Interim Committee has forwarded and placed before this General Assembly House Bill 16-1037 which would create certain tax credits for employers hiring and retaining blind employees.  The NFB of Colorado strongly supports this bill and urges its adoption. 

The period of the tax credit created by H.B. 1037 would apply from January 1, 2016 through January 1, 2019 and would permit taxpaying employers to receive tax credit in two different categories.  First, an employer who hires a qualified blind or visually impaired person or a worker with a Developmental Disability may receive a tax credit of: a. 50 percent of the gross wages paid to that individual for the first 3 continuous months, and b. 30 percent for the next 9 months of employment.  Second, an employer may receive a tax credit for the maintenance, repair or upgrade of assistive technology that is necessary for the qualified worker with a disability to complete their assigned job for such costs incurred between January 1, 2016 and January 1, 2019:  a. 75 percent of the costs of the first year; b. 50 percent of the costs for the second year; and c. 25 percent of the cost for the third year of employment.  Because this tax credit would only be available regarding employees referred by the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, there will be minimal fiscal impact on the General Fund.

The Federation strongly supports this bill because of the great barriers the blind face in securing competitive employment.  Offering incentives to employers to hire the blind is an effective means to integrating the blind into the workforce.  Additionally, assistive technology allows the blind to participate fully in the workforce, but many employers fear that said technology will cost too much forcing employers to shy away from hiring the blind.  Offering tax credits for the purchase of such technology further incentivizes   employers to give blind persons meaningful employment.


For more than a decade, the Colorado General Assembly has funded Colorado’s NFB-NEWSLINE®, providing blind Coloradans the same daily access to newspapers and magazines as their sighted neighbors and family members enjoy.  This year, we request that the General Assembly maintain its support of $60,000.00 to this project.  Continued funding to NFB-NEWSLINE® will not impact general funds because NFB-NEWSLINE® is funded through the Disabled Telephone Users Fund (DTUF), which comes from a very small fee on phone lines in Colorado and which always registers a surplus. 

Access to information from the newspapers and magazines of our nation and state play a critical role for each of us as informed and participating citizens.  Recognizing this, the National Federation of the Blind created NFB-NEWSLINE® for the blind in the mid-1990s.  With this revolutionary system, the blind are able to pick up their touch tone phone, call a toll free number, and select from nearly 400 different newspapers and magazines including the Denver Post, Colorado Springs Gazette, Wall Street Journal and many other national newspapers.  Today the phone-in option is still in place, but additional options include online on-demand reading, email delivery and, most impressively, mobile phone and tablet apps that deliver the two Colorado newspapers offered, national papers as well as nearly 40 magazines – everything from AARP publications to Time and Wired.  There are even accessible and locally-relevant television listings – something impossible to find in an accessible form for the blind otherwise.  Additionally, the system provides current weather conditions as well as watches and warnings.  Currently, over 1300 blind Coloradans have access to the 400 newspapers, magazines, and other publications on the system.  About every two minutes, a blind Coloradan is tapping into the vast wealth of information provided by NFB-NEWSLINE®.

With the funding, the NFB of Colorado will maintain the system and expand its reach.  We will create even greater opportunities to share NFB-NEWSLINE® on additional web based and other technological platforms; expand the number of publications available; train more blind individuals to use the system; and work with the Audio Information Network of Colorado (AIN) to provide more information to the blind of Colorado. AIN is another service funded by the DTUF providing other timely publications and information to our state’s blind and the NFB of Colorado supports continued funding for AIN as well.


In your packets, you will find brochures on the Colorado Center for the Blind and fliers for National Federation of the Blind national and local scholarships.  These and other programs are of great importance and therefore deserve a specific mention. 

Founded in 1988 by the NFB of Colorado, the Colorado Center for the Blind (CCB) offers world class rehabilitation and adjustment to blindness training to blind/visually impaired individuals in our state and from all over the world.  The CCB believes that with the right kind of training and a positive attitude, blindness need not be a tragedy and should not artificially limit a person’s hopes and dreams.  The program serves all ages from kids as young as elementary age to seniors.  CCB teaches cane travel/orientation and mobility, Braille, technology, independent daily living skills, employment skills, and much, much more.  The vast majority of the teaching staff is made up of blind instructors who serve as excellent role models.  Please read the CCB brochure in your packet for more information or go to Center is located in Littleton and you are always welcome and encouraged to visit.


The National Federation of the Blind offers thirty scholarships to talented blind men and women across the nation who are attending a post-secondary institution.  Over a hundred thousand dollars are awarded each year and provide real opportunity for deserving students.  On a state level, the NFB of Colorado offers up to five scholarships to blind men and women attending a post-secondary institution and scholarships range from $1,500.00 to $5,000.00.  More information on how to apply is contained in your legislative packet.  Please inform your local high schools, colleges and universities as well as any blind/visually impaired post-secondary student you know about these valuable scholarship opportunities.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Throw in with the Wild West Chapter!

Out in the western suburbs of Denver there are some rough, tough Federationists who figure on starting up a new chapter. If you're out that way, saddle up on Saturday and see which way the wind blows. You just might want to throw in with this bunch!

Who: National Federation of the Blind Wild West Chapter

What: Chapter building meeting

Why: to reach out to our blind community and family and friends of blind individuals of all ages

When: Saturday, February 6 2016 at 12 PM High Noon – 3PM

Where: Carmody Recreation Center
2200 S Kipling st., LAKEWOOD, CO 80227

The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back.

For further information please email Brad at:

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Our Day at the Capitol January 14, 2016

(Editor's Note: The 2016 session of the Colorado General Assembly begins on Wednesday, January 13 and the NFB of Colorado will be in the Capitol on Thursday. There's no time to waste as there are two critical bills for the blind to be introduced early this session. Both came out of the Interim Study Committee on Vocational Rehabilitation for the Blind's work in the late summer and autumn of 2015. Below is President LaBarre's Message regarding our Day at the Capitol.)

Happy New Year!

We will be conducting our state day at the capitol on Thursday, January 14.  We will begin at 8am with a briefing and should have all appointments concluded by around noon.  As always, we Will be meeting in the Old Supreme Court Chambers, located on the second floor of the capitol.

We will be concentrating on three issues. 

  • We will once again seek funding for NFB Newsline in Colorado.
  • We will support a bill that came out of the Interim Study Committee which would expand the Business Enterprise Program for blind vendors in our state. 
  • Also from the Interim Study Committee, we will support a bill that would introduce tax credits to employers who hire blind individuals or who purchase assistive technology or other accommodations for blind employees.

We encourage you to contact your senators and representatives to set up an appointment ahead of time.  If you need help identifying your elected officials, please contact my office.  I look forward to seeing everyone on the 14th.


Scott LaBarre, President

NFB of Colorado