Accessibility A Mixed-Bag For Voters With Disabilities
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
November 3, 2004
UNITED STATES--Regardless of the outcome of Tuesday's general election, people with disabilities can declare a partial victory regarding the accessibility of polling places and election processes.
Despite federal laws mandating accessibility, and millions of dollars spent on site upgrades and new voting machines, the guarantee for each adult to cast a private ballot could still be described as a "mixed bag".
Fourteen years after the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted, requiring public buildings and services to be accessible, an estimated 70 percent of polling places in the country still do not comply. Accessibility was given a boost with the 2002 Help America Vote Act, which mandated, among other things, that polling sites have at least one voting machine that is usable by people with disabilities by 2006. While thousands of precincts have upgraded and provided accessible electronic touch-screen machines, for example, most are not yet in compliance.
"When I see a polling place that has one or two steps to get in that is discrimination," Jessie Jane Lewis, a Philadelphia voter who uses a wheelchair, told Newsday. "It's like saying, 'No Gays, No African-Americans.' It's telling me I can't get in."
A recent survey by the National Organization on Disability found that more than eight million potential voters with disabilities were excluded from the process in past elections because of barriers to accessibility.
In Indiana, dozens of two-person teams fanned across the state Tuesday, taking with them a 7-page, 48-point inspection checklist to evaluate ADA compliance at polling sites in 43 counties.
Julia Vaughn, project director for Count U.S. In in Indianapolis, told the Post-Tribune that a review of polling places in 49 counties last spring found most did not comply with ADA guidelines.
"In Marion County we found only 17 of 1,512 polling places in full compliance," she said. Marion County includes Indianapolis.
In addition to problems with accessible parking, doors, walkways, ramps and voting equipment, many voters found a lack of large-print ballots, sign language interpreters and help in using a voting machine.
On the positive side, thousands more voters with physical, learning and vision-related disabilities were able to cast secret ballots for the first time through the use of electronic touch-screen voting machines. The Nevada Appeal and the Charleston Post and Courier both reported that the controversial machines had few problems during Tuesday's election.
"Disabled describe barriers to voting" (Newsday via Eugene Register-Guard)
"Audio ballots grant visually impaired voters a new level of privacy" (Charleston Post and Courier)
"Nevada voting machines work well" (Nevada Appeal)
"Vote or Diebold: Company has right 'touch'" (Boston Herald)