EFE Featured on Chicago Daily Law Bulletin: Volunteers help Chicagoans with disabilities vote
October 27, 2016
By Emily Donovan
Law Bulletin staff writer
In March, Chicago was one of 42 cities and counties where the U.S. Department of Justice conducted accessibility surveys.
Ninety-five percent of the 106 city polling places sampled had some type of accessibility violation or barrier that made it harder for people with disabilities or the elderly to vote there.
And while Illinois requires local election authorities to offer a curbside voting option — where a person can request assistance to come outside to help them vote — Equip for Equality Civil Rights Team Vice President Barry C. Taylor said that still isn’t fair.
“People with disabilities should be able to vote independently and privately, just like anybody else,” Taylor said. “The idea of getting assistance from somebody when you don’t want it or need it just isn’t right.”
The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners has announced an initiative called Voting Access Chicago. The goal is to make all of Chicago’s polling places and early voting sites fully accessible by the primary elections in March 2018.
Equip for Equality, which provides legal advocacy for people with disabilities, has partnered with the Board of Election Commissioners and is recruiting volunteers to conduct accessibility surveys at every polling place.
There are more than 1,700 polling places in Chicago this election, said Olga F. Pribyl, Equip for Equality vice president for pro bono and for the Special Education Clinic, and all accessibility surveys must be conducted on Election Day, Nov. 8.
Pribyl said the survey needs 250 or 300 volunteers more volunteers to work on Election Day.
Response from interested volunteers has been great, Pribyl said. More training dates have been added at different venues as different corporations, law firms and law schools have partnered for the cause.
Pribyl said voting and accessibility are big issues for everyone. Taylor said making it possible to vote for the 460,000 elderly voters and people with disabilities in Chicago is a nonpartisan cause.
“It really is about this fundamental American value of being able to exercise the right to vote for all people, including people with disabilities,” Taylor said.
Volunteers must attend a 90-minute training session that gives Continuing Legal Education professional responsibility credit. Volunteers are asked to commit to surveying for at least four to six hours on Election Day.
Steven F. Pflaum, a partner at Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP who has completed the Voting Access Chicago training, was surprised by how much goes into making sure a location is accessible.
Parking must be marked a certain way, there must be a certain amount of space to get out of the cars, ramps must not have more than an 8.3 percent running slope and must not have a rise greater than 30 inches, doors must not require too much effort to open, there must be a voting booth that provides the same degree of privacy to someone in a wheelchair and there must be an accessible voting device so blind voters can navigate the ballot by putting on a headset.
“From the way for how you prepare for where people are dropped off or park, getting into the building, the width of the parking spaces, width of the access next to the parking spaces, getting up curbs, ramps, permissible elevation or pitch of a ramp — those sorts of details that I had never really stopped to think about,” he said.
“The number of things that go into this is pretty remarkable,” he said. “It all makes perfect sense when you stop to think about it, but I have to admit I hadn’t stopped to think about that until receiving the training.”
Last updated: November 11, 2016