Looking to November, Disability Advocates Call for Accessible Polling Places

Monday, August 27, 2012


A Federal Court Judge will hear testimony Monday about how to make city polling sites more accessible for people who use wheelchairs or have vision impairments.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts ruled there were pervasive barriers at sites — from inadequate signage to locked entrance doors — for people with disabilities.

The suit was filed two years ago, alleging the Board of Elections violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Denise McQuade, who uses a wheelchair, faced several obstacles when she tried to vote in 2010 because her polling place in Bay Ridge was inaccessible.

“The door was hard to get through in a wheelchair and then I immediately faced a steep ramp that was more for deliveries than wheelchairs because it was on an incline and it was impossible to go up or down it by myself,” she said.

It wasn’t the first time McQuade had problems trying to vote. She has encountered a range of difficulties in her more than 40 years of exercising her right to vote in the city — sometimes having to be physically carried down stairs. She has periodically opted to vote by absentee ballot, but it isn’t her preference.

One of the attorneys for the defendants, Julia Pinover, believes that even if people can vote absentee, they shouldn't have to.

"The truth is that voting is a really symbolic act. And to be denied the right to vote in person at your polling place is to have your voice silenced, to be excluded from your community and from having a voice in your country,” she explained.

Pinover said they'll be asking the court on Monday to ensure that the city Board of Elections come up with short term remedies by the November election, which includes having a dedicated supervisor tasked to ensure each site is barrier free for people with disabilities.

In the long term, they'd like to see a system in place where the city moves away from using schools as sites and instead find buildings more universally accessible.

Senior Counsel with NYC Law Department, Steve Kitzinger, who is representing the city’s Board of Elections in the case, said he disagrees with the ruling. “We don’t believe that there widespread barriers to accessibility.” Kitzinger wouldn’t comment further since the case is still pending.


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Comments [4]

Long Island Disability Attorney

It is a good start but it is just a start. Accessibility is an important issue that shouldn't be ignored by government as well as the private sector.

Long Island Disability Attorney

Aug. 28 2012 01:37 PM
Ellen Fennick from Cherry Hill, NJ

A major issue for my friends with developmental disabilities is the ignorance of polling site volunteers. They are not trained to understand that some adults can not read the ballots independently. We need proper training of volunteers and good arrangements for people who need help reading the ballot.

Aug. 28 2012 01:28 PM
Jen Halbert from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

As a wheelchair user and regular voter in NYC, I can attest to the frequent difficulties faced by folks such as myself trying to vote in this city. I finally have a dependably accessible polling place, after years of being assigned to different places that all didn't work for different reasons, and I'm thrilled by this court case finally (hopefully, but I never trust this city to change for the better until I see it) making the city ensure toe right and ability to vote for all.

Fingers crossed.

Aug. 28 2012 12:22 PM
Humble Sea Bass from Brooklyn

Good first-line name-check on the visual impairment, however, the article may have been truncated because the rest of the piece ignores the difficulties encountered by the VI community when it comes to voting.

Aug. 27 2012 02:00 PM

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