Federal Court orders NYC Board of Elections to eliminate voting barriers for disabled

October 24, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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Disability community applauds new plan

In a major victory for New Yorkers with disabilities who use wheelchairs and scooters or have vision impairments, Federal Judge Deborah Batts ordered the Board of Elections (BOE) to adopt a barrier removal plan proven effective in eliminating barriers to voting at poll sites for people with disabilities.

With the 2012 Presidential Election only weeks away, the court’s intervention will ease the ability for disabled persons to vote in the upcoming election.      

The court decision orders the BOE to adopt a plan proposed by plaintiffs and the United States Department of Justice (DOJ). Similar plans have been successful in cities such as Philadelphia, which contains architectural barriers resulting from age and density of construction like those found in New York City.  

The plan requires the BOE to designate one Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) poll-site worker at every poll-site in NYC, who will be trained on poll-site accessibility by the Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York. The plan also requires the BOE to work with a third-party voting access specialist to develop a plan to transition its polling sites to accessible facilities.

Stuart Seaborn, staff attorney with Disability Rights Advocates, commented that “we are pleased with the judge’s decision, which puts an end to massive voter barriers that overwhelmingly exclude tens of thousands of people with disabilities from voting in elections.”

The lawsuit, which seeks no damages, was filed in July of 2010 to address the widespread barriers throughout NYC’s poll sites that disenfranchise people with disabilities from voting during elections.  United Spinal Association and Disabled In Action – two groups that work to ensure that people with disabilities are integrated into their communities and live as independently as possible, brought the lawsuit.

Judge Batt’s decision follows a report issued last month following NYC’s primary election, which showed that serious barriers remain, despite a court order that required the BOE to develop a plan to eliminate barriers to voting. The BOE implemented its barrier removal plan during the Primary Election targeting 40 of its most problematic poll sites, nine of which are in Brooklyn.

However, of the 40 poll sites surveyed, nearly 50 percent contained barriers. The types of barriers identified were missing wheelchair ramps, blocked paths of travel for wheelchair and scooter users, and locked doors at accessible entrances.

Julia Pinover, also a staff attorney at Disability Rights Advocates, noted that “the court’s decision marks a historic moment that truly opens up the fundamental right to vote for New Yorkers with disabilities and gives them the dignity and respect they deserve.”

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