20th Anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities
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
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