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People with Disabilities Face Extra Obstacles in Voting

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Accessible ballots and ballot-marking devices allow people living with disabilities to cast their votes with privacy. (Dob's Farm/Adobe Stock)
Accessible ballots and ballot-marking devices allow people living with disabilities to cast their votes with privacy. (Dob's Farm/Adobe Stock)
 By Andrea Sears - Producer, Contact
October 21, 2020

NEW YORK - People living with disabilities have often faced physical obstacles to casting their votes, but their advocates say voting by mail can present a different set of challenges.

In every election, people with disabilities have encountered polling places that lack wheelchair ramps or other accommodations.

But now, with the COVID pandemic making in-person voting riskier for those with underlying health conditions, Monica Bartley - community outreach organizer with the Center for Independence of the Disabled New York - pointed out that people who are blind or have problems with dexterity can't fill out a standard mail-in ballot.

"We had a lawsuit just before the primary election," said Bartley. "And that enabled us to get an accessible absentee ballot."

Applications for the online accessible ballots can be found at 'elections.ny.gov.' The application must be received at least seven days before the election.

But using the accessible ballot can mean a whole new set of obstacles. Once filled out, the ballot must be printed out on legal-size paper.

And Bartley pointed out that not everyone has access to a printer, or one that can handle that size of paper.

"So, we're giving people options of saving the ballot on a thumb drive and going to the library," said Bartley, "or some public place that offers that service, to print their ballot."

She added polling places are supposed to have ballot-marking devices to allow people who can't fill out a ballot manually to cast their vote in person.

Bartley said for people with disabilities, issues like keeping the Affordable Care Act's guarantee of health insurance for anyone with pre-existing conditions could make this vote a matter of life or death.

"We want to make sure that we are also involved in this process," said Bartley, "choosing what we think would be better for our lives."

Disclosure: Center for Independence of the Disabled New York contributes to our fund for reporting on Disabilities. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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