The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was passed by Congress in 2002, with the commendable intention of making it easier for Americans with disabilities to cast their vote, and to maintain their privacy and independence. However, more than a decade later, one out of five disabled Americans still face various types of problems when they attend the polls, according to a survey conducted by the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent agency which advises the government about disability issues. The NCD’s report cites the following common obstacles that wheelchair users and other handicapped people face:
1) Physical Accessibility Problems: Many of the polling stations pose physical barriers for those in wheelchairs or with limited mobility. Many states offer alternatives such as voting by mail, proxy votes, etc, to get round the physical accessibility issue, but despite that, disabled people still feel they are being discriminated against, if attending and voting in person is not an option for them.
2) Voting Machines Are Not Accessible: Around half of the respondents in the survey said that the technology was unusable, due to being broken, or that it malfunctioned, not available to be used, or the staff there did not know how to demonstrate and operate it. The NCD has recommended that both the state and local governments should invest in the technology for disabled people and make sure that it is maintained correctly. As an example, the state of Oregon supplies iPads which are fitted with software to be used by disabled voters, so other states could well follow this lead.
3) Discriminatory Attitudes at the Polls: Disabled voters surveyed reported that often they are prevented from casting the vote on their own, as someone else, e.g. a member of staff, insists on doing it for them. They also report patronising, rude and derisory attitudes from staff who have not been adequately trained in disability rights. The NCD is campaigning for better awareness and sensitivity among the polling site staff towards the disabled and also for more individuals who have disabilities themselves to be hired to work at these places, which may help to ensure that those with handicaps can still cast an independent and private vote.
4) State Restrictions on Voters Under Guardianship: Some individuals are placed under the guardianship of another person due to their having mental, intellectual and other disabilities, if they are not judged to be competent to deal themselves with the challenges of everyday living, finances, etc. Certain states such as California place restrictions on the mental capacity to vote of these people, and in these states the parties in question have to petition a judge to let them represent themselves in this way. New Jersey’s law prevents those who are deemed "idiots“ or "insane“ from casting a ballot. The NCD is campaigning to have these guardianship laws reviewed by the states, so that the individuals who are affected by them are not deprived of their election rights.
*In conclusion while we are on the subject of voting, if you liked this blog, you know what to do!
*Image via Flickr creative commons.