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20th Anniversary of the ADA Calls for Increased Accessibility to the Ballot [View All]

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demodonkey Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-26-10 06:36 PM
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20th Anniversary of the ADA Calls for Increased Accessibility to the Ballot
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Edited on Mon Jul-26-10 06:52 PM by demodonkey

20th Anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act
Calls for Increased Accessibility to the Ballot

By Marybeth Kuznik, Founder and Executive Director, VotePA

July 26, 2010 -- Twenty years ago today, the Americans With Disabilities Act was enacted and the lives of millions of people changed for the better. Today we recognize how the ADA provided for curb cuts, ramps for wheelchairs, accessible parking spaces, closed captioning broadcasts, and many other familiar accommodations. One of the most important accomplishments of the Americans With Disabilities Act is that it made civil rights for the disabled the law of our land. The ADA has made full participation much more possible for anyone dealing with one or more of the many forms of disability that are a part of human life.

But even today, after twenty years of this law and its great strides and improvement, barriers and closed doors do remain for people living with disabilities.

Unfortunately one of the areas that still need improvement is voting. Many polling places are still inaccessible to people using wheelchairs or other aids. People in hospitals or other institutions often don't get to vote, and those with cognitive or mental disabilities are sometimes challenged or denied their right to participation if and when they do get to the polls.

Perhaps the saddest problem of all is that many of our voting systems, the very tools we provide for casting a ballot, still produce a formidable barrier to voting by people with disabilities. This situation is tragic because HAVA, the Help America Vote Act of 2002, promised to extend the spirit of the ADA and clearly required voting systems that make voting private and independent for people with disabilities.

Under HAVA, billions of dollars were spent on so-called accessible election equipment that in many cases turned out to be a cruel sham. Voting machines were sold as accessible but in actual use these machines completely deny access to people with many common conditions. In some cases these poorly-designed voting machines were even labeled "ADA Compliant."

Some of the so-called accessible voting machines provided under the Help America Vote Act lack simple accommodations such as a binary switch to allow use of sip and puff and other devices for people with mobility or motor control problems. Some of these voting machines provide audio ballots for the visually impaired that are so slow and difficult to use, voting a simple ballot can take an hour or more. In one famous case the audio instructions for one of these machines advised blind voters to push the "yellow button" to cast a ballot.

Under the Help America Vote Act my own county chose a Direct Recording Electronic touchscreen mounted on a stand. My mother, who is a stroke survivor, cannot get her wheelchair close enough our so-called ADA-accessible machine to reach the entire touchscreen or to push the VOTE button. She has to have another person select her choices and cast her ballot for her. After nearly thirty years as a pollworker and still serving as Inspector of Elections in our precinct, my mother finds it embarrassing that she has to be helped to vote.

This is sad and totally avoidable, because technology exists that can do much better.

On this historic 20th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, VotePA urges every state and every county to adopt voting systems that are secure, auditable, recountable, and fully accessible to people with a wide variety of disabilities. The great promise of the ADA will never be completely achieved until the act of voting -- casting a ballot and having that ballot equally and accurately counted -- is truly accessible to all.

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