WPAS updates - Spring 2005

DRW updates
Phil Jordan

What's Happening at WPAS?

In the last issue of Envoy On-Line we told you about the survey that was conducted by WPAS and the Centers for Independent Living throughout the state of Washington.  The survey took place on Election Day (November 2, 2004) and its purpose was to see how accessible polling places are in the state for people with disabilities.  215 polling places around the state were surveyed, and we have been busily putting all the information into a report.  At the end of this article is a link to that report, so you can take a look at it if you wish.

The survey found that many polling places across the state made it difficult or impossible for many people with disabilities to vote.  Some of the most common barriers found by the surveyors were:

1.  Inadequate accessible parking spaces.  

Some polling places had no parking spaces designated for people with disabilities.
Many sites did not have a space for a van with a wheelchair lift.
Often, the accessible parking spaces did not have curb cuts that connected to the walkway to the building.

2.  Inadequate public transportation.

Many sites had no public transportation nearby.
When public transportation was available, there was often no safe or accessible route from the bus stop to the polling site.

3.  Lack of signs.

When the accessible route to the building was different than the usual route, there was often no sign that directed people with disabilities how to get to the voting area.
Signs directing people to accessible voting booths were rarely displayed.
Signs stating that assistance was available for people with disabilities or describing how to file a complaint were often difficult to read or not posted.

4.  Doors that were too narrow or otherwise inaccessible.

Nearly 20%  of the sites had doors that were too narrow for a wheelchair to easily enter.
Automatic door openers often failed to operate.
Many thresholds were too high for a wheelchair to cross.

Although the survey revealed many barriers, it also highlighted the great job done by the people who work at the polling places.  Nearly all of the surveyors reported that poll workers went out of their way to be helpful and to find ways to assist all voters, including people with disabilities.

Poll workers were very supportive of the surveyors, often taking the time to make sure that all of their questions were answered.  In polling places where barriers existed, the workers showed a lot of creativity in finding ways to overcome those barriers.  Some poll workers even loaned voters their own glasses if they needed help reading the small print on the ballots.  In one polling place where there were no voting booths that were set up for people in wheelchairs, the poll workers immediately jumped up and set one up.  It was clear that the poll workers believe that voting is very important and that accessibility is a responsibility that they take seriously.

WPAS will be presenting the results of the survey this May at the Elections Conference that is put on by the Washington State County Auditors and the Secretary of State's office.  The County Auditors are the officials who run elections across the state, and the Secretary of State is responsible for statewide coordination of those elections.

*Editor's Note: Disability Rights Washington was formerly known as Washington Protection and Advocacy System.