United Spinal Association
Accessibility for Voters with Disabilities
June 26, 2006
Good afternoon, my name is Terence Moakley. I’m an associate executive director at United Spinal Association—formerly Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association—located in Jackson Heights. United Spinal Association is a national membership organization that provides advocacy and services to individuals with a spinal cord injury or disorder. We are currently celebrating our sixtieth year of service here in New York City to persons with disabilities.
My remarks will be brief. First, to us it seems like common sense that if the city has purchased between 25 and 30 new, more easily accessible voting machines, then they should be physically located at 25 to 30 different polling sites around the city. This approach would be, at the very least, a good faith attempt to try to maximize the use of these new machines, when compared to the notion that it is better to have them all at just one location in each borough. No matter what is done, most people with disabilities who wish to use these new machines will need to travel to reach them. To be clear about public transportation accessibility in this city, progress has definitely been made over the past 25 years but using public transportation is not nearly as convenient for disabled folks yet as it is for the general public. Spread these new accessible voting machines out to 25 to 30 polling sites.
There must be no doubt whatsoever that the 25 to 30 polling places chosen for these new machines are fully accessible to persons with disabilities, including persons who use wheelchairs or power-operated scooters. We receive in our office every year around or after Election Day complaints from members and others to the effect that “the ramp constructed at my polling place is too steep,” or, “there is a ramp there but it was blocked by garbage cans.” True accessibility must be verified at the 25 to 30 sites selected, and staff at such locations—including maintenance and janitorial staff—must receive some minimum training concerning what ramps accomplish for people with disabilities and the importance of keeping them clear so that they may be used every day.
We would also like to suggest that if there is some type of mailing to be accomplished between now and Election Day 2006—perhaps a postcard notifying voters of their polling site location—that it contain at least a brief sentence to voters with disabilities about how they can obtain information about the borough location(s) of the new accessible voting machines.
Outreach about the locations of these machines is a most critical component of this effort. The Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities should be consulted concerning how, and to whom, to conduct outreach. United Spinal Association also believes that it is imperative that outreach activities take place far enough in advance so that persons with disabilities have enough time to plan to reach polling sites that house new machines. Start indirect marketing two months in advance of Election Day, and direct outreach one month ahead of time. Outreach materials should include accessible machine polling site location; available transportation to the location; and, basic & brief information about the new machines, including any available poll worker assistance.
Outreach information must be easy-to-understand and dispersed broadly. Indirect marketing information might include posting flyers at priority seating and wheelchair securement areas on ALL accessible buses operating in the five boroughs; at and within all elevators at accessible key subway stations; and, on all Access-A-Ride vehicles. In conducting direct outreach to organizations, they should be encouraged to notify their consumers, and to keep information on their websites. Finally, this information should be placed prominently on nyc.gov, nyccouncil.info, and other important web destinations for people with disabilities. Thank you for this opportunity to comment.