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Florida Lawmakers Push Voting Changes, Disabilities And COVID-19, National Deaf History Month

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DAVID SANTIAGO
/
Miami Herald
Miami-Dade resident James Curity deposit a ballot in a USPS mail box outside the Miami Beach City Hall during early voting for the general election on Wednesday, October 28, 2020 in Miami Beach.

Changes might be coming to Florida’s elections, and how people living with disabilities are being affected by the pandemic.

On this Monday, March 15, episode of Sundial:

Florida Lawmakers Push Voting Changes

Lawmakers in Tallahassee are already proposing changes to Florida’s election laws just months after the November Presidential election.

We spoke with Charles Zelden, Nova Southeastern University history and political science professor, about the plans.

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Given the current state of the post office and the fear that if you drop your ballot in the mail, it won't arrive in time to be counted, a lot of people delivered their ballot to the drop box. The idea was I could go out to the drop box and hold all the advantages of voting by mail, but the assurance that it's going right directly to the Supervisor of Elections office," Zelden said.

The proposed changes would make voters who want to receive ballots by mail request have to request them more frequently and it would get rid of all drop boxes, even at elections offices.

According to Zelden, 1.5 million people who requested their vote by mail ballot and turned it back in did so by dropping them off at these ballot drop boxes.

“Democrats made better use of vote by mail in the last election and as a result, they [Republicans] want to minimize those who use vote by mail, making it harder for people to use this somewhat easier approach to voting and ultimately to make it more confusing ... and as a result, take those voters, many of whom vote Democratic, and convince them not to bother voting," Zelden said.

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Disabilities And COVID-19

For people with developmental disabilities and learning disabilities, getting access to the COVID-19 vaccine has proven particularly difficult.

We spoke with Sharon Alexander, the CEO of the Unicorn Children’s Foundation located in Palm Beach County. The organization works with young people living with special needs.

“We're all experiencing challenges in navigating the system. It's almost like we're building this plane as far as we're flying it, as new things come out and we have to adapt and change our behaviors. For individuals with disabilities that may have processing challenges or sensory overload, it makes it very difficult for them to be going in for vaccinations if they’re able to access them,” Alexander said.

Alexander added that another barrier in some disabled people obtaining the vaccine is having to stand in line for long periods of time or current ineligibility for the vaccine.

“The CDC has suggested that Down's Syndrome is one of the conditions that makes individuals more highly vulnerable to COVID-19. I think we need to take individuals with disabilities and add them into that mix of people who are qualified for the vaccine,” Alexander said.

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National Deaf History Month

Face masks and social distancing are the new norms — but they've made life more difficult for everyone, especially those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum at Florida International University is celebrating National Deaf History Month with a closed-captioned, and free, virtual event Friday.

We spoke with Miriam Machado, the museum's director of education.

We also spoke with John Paul Jebian, an American Sign Language teacher at G. Holmes Braddock Senior High School and a professor at FIU.

Jebian is deaf and joined us with an interpreter who spoke on his behalf.

National Deaf History Month
Sign language interpretation major Nikolas Carapellatti (left) signs with deaf Gallaudet University student Rebecca Witzofsky outside the first signing Starbucks café.

Suria is Sundial's fall 2020 high school intern and a production assistant.
Leslie Ovalle produces WLRN's daily magazine program, Sundial. She previously produced Morning Edition newscasts at WLRN and anchored the midday news. As a multimedia producer, she also works on visual and digital storytelling.