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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Disabled and Disenfranchised?

The powerchair might fit if it had no arms

It’s not quite as bad as the title infers, but this morning was, um, interesting. It wasn’t too cold and our polling location is very close to our house so David and I “walked” over to vote. That’s something I haven’t been able to do since the location for our precinct moved to so close because this is the first year I’ve had the power chair. So we closed up the house and made our way to place our votes. However there was a problem.

We crossed the bumpy parking area to the doorway between the school and church and lo and behold the door opening was not made to accommodate my chair! Last year we went downtown for early voting and the year before we took the manual wheelchair and I guess David must have pushed me through the door with my arms forward because there’s no way I could have done it myself without bashing my elbows and/or skinning my knuckles.

Here is where the interpretation of the ADA term “reasonable accommodation” comes into play. If I go to a store and my chair can’t get through the aisles, reasonable accommodation may include bringing me a variety of items to choose from and letting me select the items I want to buy, essentially bringing the store to me. It can also mean taking my order and delivering items to my home with no delivery charge as I wasn’t able to use the store in the same way other shoppers can.

Today, the reasonable accommodation, since I couldn’t get in to cast my vote, was that a provisional absentee ballot was brought out to me. Had it been colder, snowing or raining I’d have been sitting outside in the weather waiting for all the paperwork to be brought out. Regular voting for me is adjusting the screen down and using the touch screen method everyone else uses. Absentee voting is filling out an envelope and choosing which candidate and issue responses by filling in spaces by hand. One of my MS issues is the inability to write well and sometimes to even hold a pencil. There was a book to hold under things to write on but no table and maybe it's just me but I don’t really like the idea of people circled around me able to read and see what votes I’m casting. The voting machines have privacy walls for a reason. So, I backed up a little and colored in the spaces for my choices in midair. If I’m voting absentee, I’d prefer to do it from the privacy and practicality of my own home or at least the more private back table of a crowded coffee shop.

The two gentleman who tackled the problem of there not being accommodation for a powerchair to get into the building were great in their efforts to make sure I could vote and very sincere in their apologies for the situation, but it’s an issue that should not have come up. It’s a building that’s open to the public and should be accessible in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities act as updated in 2010.It's also a location selected by the board of elections that does not offer equal access to voters with disabilities.  I can't believe they don't consider this when choosing places people go to vote.  Updates should have been made to the building by spring 2011; full out construction renovations should have been completed by March 2012. It’s November 2013; it’s unquestionably in legal violation.

Today the accommodation was as reasonable as could be given the circumstance but it should be a call to attention of a bigger problem. In 2014 it won’t be acceptable.

(The Board of Elections will be getting a letter.)


Edna B said...

I can't believe that we still have not addressed the "handicap accessibility" issue by now in all our public buildings. This has to be very frustrating for you. I surely hope that it is corrected in your area by next year.

I wondered if your Dragon Speaking program is a help for you with your posting and typing on the PC. When you do not show up here, I worry. Nani, you take care of you, and have a wonderful day. Hugs, Edna B.

KC Bob said...

My wife Ann and I read this post together and related a tiny bit. The place where we voted on Tuesday does not have parking for ramp vans like ours so we always have to jockey the van around in the lot sometimes shuttling between their door and parking.

I do hope that people responsible for buildings like the one you vote at will get a clue sooner than later. Dealing with accessibility issues can be so stressful.

Hope the rest of your week has been better.