New Yorkers With Disabilities Face Barriers to Voting: Advocacy Groups Sue for Discrimination

Posted to site September 9, 2010

 New York, New York – A lawsuit filed this week in Federal District court in the Southern District of New York alleges that the Board of Elections in the City of New York discriminates against registered voters with mobility and vision disabilities, because it fails to ensure that polling places are accessible on Election Day.

The lawsuit, which seeks no damages, aims to end New York’s systemic failure to provide access to polling sites for disabled voters.

Ramps at New York City polling places are commonly inaccessible, and sometimes there are no ramps at all. Even when people with disabilities can enter a site, all too often they face additional barriers inside that prevent voters from getting to voting machines to cast a vote.

New York City also fails to provide its poll workers with training on how to set up an accessible polling place or on how to assist New Yorkers with disabilities who wish to cast a ballot. Despite complaints from individuals and advocacy groups alike, year after year the City chooses polling places which do not provide access for disabled voters.

The suit, which was filed on the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), is brought by United Spinal Association and Disabled in Action – two groups which work to ensure that people with disabilities are integrated into their communities and live as independently as possible. Both groups have a long history of advocacy work to protect people with disabilities right to vote.

“In a time when a handful of votes can elect a President or Senator, it is imperative that the votes of all 55 million people with disabilities be counted,” said Paul Tobin, President and CEO of Plaintiff, United Spinal Association.

Inspections of New York polling places conducted over the past decade by the Center for Independence of the Disabled, NY (CIDNY), demonstrated that logistical and physical barriers were pervasive and present significant problems for people with disabilities.

“For years we’ve had to struggle with ad hoc remedies and rationales for why more could not be done.  It’s time for New York to comply with federal civil rights law and time for the Courts to enforce the law,” said Susan M. Dooha, J.D., Executive Director of CIDNY.

The Plaintiffs are represented by Disability Rights Advocates (“DRA”), a non-profit law center that specializes in civil rights cases on behalf of persons with disabilities. The suit alleges that the Board of Elections is violating Title II of the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

“These practices disenfranchise a minority group which has long struggled against discrimination, and in doing so barricades New York voters with disabilities from having a voice, a presence, and a place in our political system,” says DRA attorney Julia Pinover.

Plaintiffs request that New York City change the way in which polling sites are selected and operated so that registered voters with disabilities may freely exercise their right to vote.

About United Spinal Association

United Spinal is a national 501(c)(3) non-profit membership organization formed in 1946 by paralyzed veterans and is dedicated to improving the quality of life for all Americans with spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, ALS and post polio.  It has played a significant role in writing the Americans with Disabilities Act, made important contributions to the Fair Housing Amendments Act and the Air Carrier Access Act.  Membership is free and is open to all individuals with spinal cord disorders.

Disabled in Action

Disabled in Action is a non-profit membership organization which was founded in 1970 and is committed to ending discrimination against people with disabilities. DIA was a key advocate in passing the State Polling Access Law of 1980 which mandated total access at polling places by 1990.

Media Contacts:

Ron Elsberry
Disability Rights Advocates

Ahvi Spindell
United Spinal Association Media Relations
(212) 580-4567,

Margi Trapani
Director, Communications & Education
Center for Independence of the Disabled, NY (CIDNY)

Reproduced from