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March 30, 2017 Blog

Cries for Help

I received a call from a mother this morning and though her situation is sad, it’s frustrating, it’s infuriating, and it’s unjust.  It is not uncommon.  

The woman seemed half-surprised that a person answered her call and almost immediately started crying when I asked how I could help her. She said that she has been making phone call after phone call and hasn’t been able to get anyone to help her or answer her questions. Most of the time, the messages she leaves are not being returned. I could sense relief on the other end of the line when I told her that I am sorry she has not gotten help and that I would do my best to assist her. She responded with a tearful, “Thank you”. Her surprise and gratitude toward me for merely doing my job is an indicator of the barriers individuals experience as they try to access services through both publically and privately funded systems. All I had done was answer her call, pleasantly ask how I could be of service, and listen.

She has been helping her daughter try to resolve an issue over a wheelchair since last August.

Her daughter, who is a teacher, has used a wheelchair for 16 years. Last summer she had a shoulder injury that required surgery, which is not uncommon.  Wheelchair users often have shoulder injuries due to the repetitive motion required of self-propelled chair users. Because her limitations, abilities and health had changed, she needed a new wheelchair. She decided that she would go to a wheelchair clinic to be properly assessed and fitted. She went back to the clinic for one last fitting in the custom wheelchair. Unfortunately, there had been an error in the order and the specifications of the chair were not correct. She left the clinic, traveled the four hours back home, and continued to wait for her new wheelchair. The provider assured her that she would not be billed until she received the chair and that they were working to correct the situation quickly.

Months have passed and she still does not have her wheelchair. She is using her old wheelchair, which is aggravating some complicated health issues. She is no longer able to self-propel her chair and relies on her mother to come to her home to push her chair into her van every morning and then relies on co-workers at school to help her get around. The physical exhaustion and compounding health issues are making her job difficult. To make matters worse, the provider billed her insurance company and was paid for a chair she has not received, despite the fact that she notified them of the situation and requested that they not remit payment until she receives the properly fitted wheelchair. She is now ineligible to receive a new chair for 5 years.

She and her mother, who I spoke with, have been running in circles.  They are told that they need to talk to the insurance provider, who tells them to talk to the wheelchair provider, who tells them to talk to the insurance provider… If the physical exhaustion from her unaccommodated disability wasn’t enough, surely the exhaustion from a wild goose chase would make anyone throw in the towel.

That’s not an option for this woman.

She has a class full of children and financial obligations. She has a life to continue living, bills to pay, and apparently an issue of insurance fraud to battle.

I told the mother that I would stick with them until this issue is resolved and that we would work together to figure out a solution.

When I said those words I meant them. I receive multiple calls every week from individuals who are experiencing the same types of injustice. We as professionals, as policy-makers, as service providers can do better. As public servants, the very core of our jobs is to provide quality customer service. Every interaction we have with each other leaves a mark. Every policy we write or rule we make affects someone’s life. Whether it’s in our job or our personal life, what we do and say matters. We can choose to treat those we interact with like strangers whose problems are not our problems, or we can support them.

This story is important because it highlights the barriers to services that individuals with disabilities experience regularly. It also highlights the importance of self-advocacy. If a well-educated and highly trained teacher has difficulty accessing services and receiving fair treatment, how does someone with a cognitive limitation fare?

Every time an Iowan in need asks for help, even if I’m not the right person to help, it is the absolute least I can do is listen, treat them with respect, and practice kindness. It is my hope that service providers will do the same and that Iowans will expect that from us rather than being pleasantly surprised when they are adequately assisted.

Written by: Page Eastin, Client Assistance Program, Iowa Department of Human Rights

The Election Modernization and Integrity Act

Thank you for the opportunity to provide more information regarding the Election Modernization and Integrity Act. My goal is for every eligible Iowan to register to vote and to participate in our elections. I will continue to strive toward that goal and work with agencies like the Department of Human Rights, disabilities advocates, non-profit organizations and everyone who is interested in seeing more Iowans vote.

Last year, we launched online voter registration to provide Iowans with another convenient way to register to vote. More than 70,000 registered using the system last year. My office also conducted an extensive statewide initiative to help veterans and Iowans with disabilities vote. We will continue with those efforts as well.

My proposal is based largely on modernizing our elections technology, by instituting electronic poll books in every precinct. It also calls for a voter identification system, to ensure the integrity of the vote. Under this legislation, to cast a ballot at the polling place, voters will need to show a driver’s license, state-issued non-driver’s ID, military ID, veterans’ ID, or passport. For any registered voter that does not already have one of those forms of identification, we will mail them a new voter ID card, automatically, for free.

Obtaining this card does not require any extra effort by the voter. We will match the voter registration database with the Iowa Department of Transportation’s database. Any registered voter who is not in the Iowa DOT database receives a free card in the mail. This applies to newly registered voters as well.

I want to assure you: no eligible voter will be turned away from the polls. I remain adamant about that fact and will work with county auditors and poll workers to ensure that does not happen.

Voters and poll workers will appreciate the benefits of using electronic poll books. When you go to vote at the polls, simply provide that card to the poll worker, the poll worker will scan the card, your information will appear on their computer, and you will be ready to vote. I firmly believe this proposal will make the voting process at the polls simpler and more streamlined. Voters at polling sites that do not yet have electronic poll books will go through a similar process, using paper registers.

When requesting an absentee ballot, you will simply include your voter ID number on the request form.  The voter ID number will come from your driver’s license, your state ID, or the new voter registration card that will be issued by the Secretary of State or county auditor. This will ensure that you are the only person who can request your absentee ballot.

Additionally, our outreach and educational efforts to explain this program will be extensive. Myself and members of my staff will visit with Iowans across the state to explain this process. We will particularly focus on Iowans with disabilities to ensure they are well informed about this initiative. We will also work with county auditors and organizations like the Iowa Department of Human Rights, so that every eligible Iowan is able to be a voter. My staff and I also welcome opportunities to visit with any group or organization that would like more information about this legislation or Iowa’s elections process. Feel free to contact us at sos@sos.iowa.gov.

I want to reinforce the fact that no eligible voter will be turned away, we will provide a free voter ID card to every Iowan that does not have an official ID, and this does not change the voter registration process at all. That is the message we will deliver to every Iowa voter, so that they know it is easy to vote, but hard to cheat in Iowa.

Written by: Paul Pate, Iowa Secretary of State