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Letters: Darfur, E-voting and Disabilities

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Letters: Darfur, E-voting and Disabilities

From Our Listeners

Letters: Darfur, E-voting and Disabilities

Letters: Darfur, E-voting and Disabilities

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Listeners comment on online virtual communities and the crisis in Darfur. And Jim Dickson, vice president for government affairs at the American Association of People with Disabilities, talks about what electronic voting machines could mean for disabled voters.


It's Tuesday, the day we read from your e-mails. A week ago, we talked about online worlds like Second Life, virtual communities with - in some cases -millions of so-called residents who interact, travel, build, even shop and sell with real-world money, and do it all online.

Matt Turner(ph), a listener in Castro Valley, California, sees real potential in these virtual worlds.

One of the things that really blew me away upon checking out Second Life was the international space-station museum. It has live feeds from NASA, full-scale models of space shuttles, a physical tour of the solar system and much more. A museum like this would not be possible in the real world, and to me this is the realization of Second Life's potential.

Another listener wasn't nearly so impressed.

As a social worker, e-mailed Jocelyn Boudreau(ph), it occurs to me that this is completely antithetical to any kind of experience I've ever had. It's a way to distance one's self from the real world and contribute to people's lack of involvement with other actual people. It encourages people to plug in and zone out. As for me, I'll take actual reality over virtuality any day.

A week ago Monday, our attention was on the very real-world crisis in Darfur, a day after the Sudanese government expelled the U.N. envoy in Khartoum. We asked what should the U.S. do about Darfur?

Regan Wilson(ph) e-mailed from Utah to complain.

I know that I am certainly naive about the political and financial issues that affect intervening in Darfur, but how many times will the United States say never again to genocide?

Phil Sanger(ph), a listener in Missouri, took a different view.

Granted that Sudanese government is doing and supporting evil in Darfur, but what are the vital interests of the U.S. that justify spending U.S. lives and treasure? Given that the U.S. hopelessly mismanaged military intervention in Somalia and an outright war and occupation in Iraq, what evidence exists that the U.S. would do any better in Sudan?

And last Tuesday, with the mid-term election still two weeks away, we looked at some of the concerns over new voting technology.

Catherine Devine(ph) e-mailed to tell us electronic voting, touch screens, discriminates against computer-challenged citizens. I have a disabled friend who has no fear of computers, but lacks the dexterity to hit the right spot.

Well, for a response to that and to talk about what electronic voting machines need for other disabled voters, we called on Jim Dixon. He's vice president for governmental affairs at the American Association of People with Disabilities and leads the AAPD Disability Vote Project. Nice to have you on the program today.

Mr. JIM DIXON (Vice President for Government Affairs, American Association of People with Disabilities): It's nice to be with you, Neal.

CONAN: Jim Dixon, is it true? Do electronic voting machines discriminate against the disabled?

Mr. DIXON: Actually, the opposite is true. Electronic voting machines allow people with disabilities to vote privately and independently for the first time. The letter-writer's friend would be able to use adaptive switches - like a sip-and-puff switch, the kind of thing you saw Christopher Reeve use when driving his wheelchair - so that she could vote privately and independently and get around her dexterity issues.

CONAN: And before electronic voting, privacy was the issue. You needed some help.

Mr. DIXON: That's right. I'm blind. I've had the following things happen to me when I've been in the polling places: the very first time, a poll-worker said to me, you want to vote for who? And said it loud enough that everybody in the polling place could hear it. On another occasion, I had a poll-worker say I'm really busy. Nobody knows who these state representatives are anyway, so we're done. On two more occasions, I personally had poll-workers try to cut off my voting process. And after every election, we get hundreds of reports of similar problems. These touch-screen machines allow us to vote on our own, without the aid or inappropriate language of anybody.

CONAN: And that's a huge breakthrough, as far as you're concern.

Mr. DIXON: It's huge. It's huge. I voted for the first time privately here in D.C. in our 2004 primary. The hair still stands up on the back of my neck. It is hard to explain how powerful the feeling is to be able to vote secretly and independently, just like everybody else does.

CONAN: Jim Dixon, thanks very much.

Mr. DIXON: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Jim Dixon, vice president for government affairs at the American Association of People with Disabilities, where he leads their Disability Vote Project.

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