More than a decade after Congress took steps to ensure equal access for people with disabilities at the polls, a new report finds that legal, physical and attitudinal barriers remain.
During the 2012 election cycle, 1 in 5 voters with disabilities said they were kept from casting their ballot on their own and more than half said they encountered hurdles — including rude or condescending attitudes from election workers — while inside their polling place.
The findings are based on the experiences of nearly 900 people with disabilities who were queried by the National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency charged with advising Congress and the president on disability issues.
Overall, the council found that problems were widespread. Nearly 40 percent of voters with disabilities said their polling place was physically inaccessible and almost half indicated that technology was problematic.
The report also found that state laws are increasingly limiting the right to vote for people with disabilities under guardianships and in other circumstances.
The findings come despite provisions in a 2002 law known as the Help America Vote Act that were designed to help Americans with disabilities exercise their right to vote more easily. Specifically, for the first time, that legislation granted individuals with disabilities the right to vote “independently and privately.”
“People with disabilities make up approximately 1 in 5 of our nation’s population and yet 70 percent of polling places are still not accessible,” said Clyde Terry, a member of the National Council on Disability. “A decade after the Help America Vote Act was signed into law, meaningful action by election officials to guarantee the most fundamental right of all Americans — including those with disabilities — is not only warranted, it is long past overdue.”
The council is urging better training for election staff, enhanced enforcement of voting and civil rights laws and the adoption of accessible voting equipment, among other steps.