steven mccoy in yellow sweater on porch with ocean in background

From Voting Challenges to Voting Champion

How the U.S. Vote Foundation Resource for Voters with Disabilities empowered a celebrated deaf-blind journalist to motivate other citizens to vote in 2024.

Imagine it’s Election Day and you want to vote in person. You love the connection to your community and the buzz of fulfilling your civic duty. Sometimes there is a bake sale outside of your polling place and most times you can proudly unpeel your “I Voted” sticker to wear as a badge of honor.

New Jersey voter Steven McCoy, often lauded as the World’s First Black Deaf-Blind Journalist, recalls the excitement he had about voting before he became visually impaired.

“This is something within my household that we always had; we always spoke about voting. So I couldn’t wait until I was finally legal, to be of age to vote. I never thought that I would ever miss out on a vote. But due to my disability, and the fear that comes around that, and the lack of knowledge, I did,” said Steven McCoy when interviewed by U.S. Vote Foundation (US Vote) for the You’re Eligible Situations - YES Campaign. His interview addresses the question:

Can I Vote with a Secret Ballot if I Need Assistance?

For voters with severe visual, motor, or mobility impairment, the excitement around voting can be overshadowed by anxiety. Their concerns start to kick in even before arriving at the polls.

  • They can’t drive themselves and it can be challenging to secure accessible transportation
  • They must navigate through obstacles, narrow passageways, and steps at many polling locations
  • They have to figure out how to actually vote if they can’t read the print on the ballot or mark the ballot by hand

Just as troubling is the prospect that poll workers may draw attention to them based on their disability. “Even just yelling out loud: This guy, he can’t see! You know, those sorts of things,” said Steven McCoy.

“In those moments when you’re voting, there’s already so many emotions behind voicing your vote. But you also just want to remain very low key and very private when going to the polls. It just became a bit difficult,” continued McCoy.

Steven McCoy has lived with a hearing impairment since childhood as a result of a rare genetic disease called Usher Syndrome which can cause deafness, blindness and balance problems. His condition progressed in recent years to include debilitating vision loss. As his sight worsened, he began to experience problems when voting.

“I didn’t like the fact that there was somebody that was standing there while I was voting. And also pointing to the candidate. It made me feel that they were kind of telling me who to vote for as well,” McCoy said. “That’s why I love that US Vote will be able to help us exercise the right to keep that privacy.”

Steven McCoy applied US Vote’s accessibility tool to read the Resource for Voters with Disabilities, a guide to help voters in all states access the vote. His top three takeaways include learning that he can:

  • Vote with an accessible ballot marking device at his polling location to adjust print size and contrast;
  • Get legal support through advocacy groups if he encounters a problem related to his disability when voting; and
  • Have the assistant of his choice if he needs some help at his polling location

Steven McCoy says that this information is a game changer. He has now teamed up with U.S. Vote Foundation as a YES Campaign Voting Champion to spread awareness and share accessible voting information with the public. “Moving forward, I know that I’ll always be able to vote. Hopefully this will inspire other people to also get to those polls and amplify their voices.”

Read or watch Steven’s full interview through YES, a campaign to help voters overcome situations that deter them from experiencing the joy of voting.

Read or Watch Steven McCoy's voting champion interview