Last updated 9:45AM ET
June 26, 2016
Local Features
Local Features
Event Highlights Voting Rights for the Disabled
From left: Panelists Barry Gilbert, Jeremy Hosford, and Sheina Murphy answer questions from a moderator. Amy Martlatt, Protection and Advocacy
(wkms) - Before 2007, people with disabilities who had been appointed a full legal guardian by a court could not vote. Since the ban has been lifted, judges must make a separate decision on whether a person loses their voting rights. Now, many disabled individuals, from those with physical and mental handicaps, to those with mental illnesses, are petitioning to get their rights back. As Angela Hatton reports, with an election this fall, Kentucky's office of Protection and Advocacy is getting the word out about voting rights.

Jeremy Hosford grew up in Murray, but now lives in Mayfield. He had his voting rights taken away in 1995 when he received a state guardian, but in 2006, he got his rights restored.

"And the P and A helped me out. Gets my voting rights restored. They helped coach me, and I g didn't have to go to court or anything. The P and A did it for me."

P and A is shorthand for Protection and Advocacy, a state agency dedicated to protecting the rights of Kentuckians with disabilities. At an event in Paducah, representatives from 18 organizations, as well as individuals, met to celebrate voting, and the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Crazy to think that we've only had our civil rights for twenty years. We're the largest political minority in America and we've only had our civil rights for twenty years."

Keith Hosey is Associate Director of the Center for Accessible Living in Murray. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 54 million Americans have a disability. They represent 19 percent of the population. Hosey says the ADA's definition of a disability differs slightly from the definition used when applying for a disability.

"What it is, is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities."

Eight hundred seventy-five thousand Kentuckians are registered as disabled. Featured speaker, Secretary of State Trey Grayson addressed these individuals. Grayson says the 2002 Help American Vote Act or HAVA significantly expanded handicap accessibility at polling places.

"Remember in 2004 before this was required, getting a call from a poll worker. And there was a gentlemen in a wheelchair trying to come into the polling place. He could vote by himself, but he couldn't get in through the door. The door frame was too narrow for him to get through with his wheelchair."

Through federal grant money, election officials can purchase ramps and door handles to make polling places ADA compliant. Each polling place also has a high-tech voting machine that protects the right of everyone to vote in private, whether they are physically or mentally handicapped.

"Ones who have a lot of disabilities. If they have trouble voting, get someone to come in there, help you vote. Like a assistant voter."

Jeremy Hosford says he brings along someone to help him because, he has trouble reading the names on the ballot. Hosford is outspoken about voting. He serves on an advisory council for the P and A, and appears in a voting rights commercial aired on state television stations. When asked why someone should vote, his answer is simple.

"Feels good."

Paducah resident Sheina Murphy is an active member of organizations that deal with mental health, including Four Rivers Behavioral Health in Paducah and the Governor's Committee on Mental Health. She has lived with schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder for many years. Murphy had her rights taken away in 1999 when she was in an assisted-living facility.

"It makes you feel like a non-person when you lose that right, and just because you have an illness."

Murphy says her experience being without her voting rights has made her more sensitive. She encourages people who register voters to not try to influence a disabled person's opinion.

"They know how to turn on the TV, they know how to read the newspaper. And just because I think a specific candidate might have good ideas, I don't I'm always real careful when I'm registering someone to vote, not to inflict my views. That's a very sacred thing to me."

Barry Gilbert of Winchester voted for the first time in the 2008 presidential election. He says he's a Democrat and supported Barack Obama.

"If he runs again in the next, next election, I'll vote for him."

NAT: Scene change, after the presentation, at the registration table.

"I need one of them to fill out."

After the presentation, a group gathers around a table set in the back of the room for voter registration. Most need to get their rights restored before than can fill out the white cards for new voters. A member of the P and A takes down their names and addresses. A few, like Sam Stubblefield, can go ahead and register for the first time. Stubblefield says the election falls just before his birthday.

"November 7." "It sure is." "I be 47. Really, really 32 and holding."

There's still time for others to sign up. Kentucky residents have until October 4 to get their voter registration cards to their county clerks.
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