Suit settled August, 2002
WASHINGTON, DC, Sept. 5, 2001 -- The American Association of People with Disabilities and the Disability Rights Council are suing the city of Washington DC for discriminating
against voters with disabilities in its decision to purchase inaccessible voting equipment, and claiming that a number of the voting sites remain inacccessible to wheelchair users. The groups charge the city with violating the Americans with Disabilities
Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth
"Some 16,000 voters with significant visual impairments,
like me, are denied the right to vote in the manner most Americans
take for granted -- independently and by secret ballot," said AAPD vice president Jim Dickson, one of the 5 individual plaintiffs named in the suit. "Voting equipment
that would permit disabled people to vote independently is readily
available; nevertheless, the District is now purchasing new
inaccessible optical scan voting systems from Sequoia Pacific,
whose accessible voting system is in use in places like
The optical scan system requires marking
one's vote on a paper ballot, which is then fed into a scanner
to be recorded and tabulated. Optical scan voting equipment is
not accessible. Today's suit, filed in federal court, seeks to
require the District to purchase equipment that uses voice
commands, remote switches, "or other features that make voting by
secret ballot possible for persons with visual and manual
"There are thousands of DC voters with physical disabilities who
cannot even get into their neighborhood polling sites," Dickson adds. The suit charges that 23 of the District's 140 polling sites remain
inaccessible due to steps or stairs.
"This lawsuit is one of many to be filed against cities,
counties and states, like Florida, who perpetuate discrimination
by continuing to exclude citizens with disabilities from equal
access to voting," says Dickson, and adds that "Florida is in the process of
purchasing optical scan voting systems which will continue to
deny America's blind community and those who cannot use their
hands the right to cast a secret, independent ballot."
The ADA requires public entities like the District
to ensure that people with disabilities not be excluded from,
indeed that they have equal opportunity to participate in, its
services, programs, or activities. The law requires that
equipment be designed and constructed to be accessible, and that
primary consideration be given to the requests of people with
disabilities for the kinds of aids and services they desire.
"These requirements are being violated by the District's decision
to perpetuate inaccessibility for the foreseeable future in the
purchase of new equipment," say plaintiffs.
The Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees all citizens the
right to equal protection of the laws, protects the right to
vote in secrecy. Many states have laws guaranteeing the right to
vote in secret, which means that it is now unjustifiable to deny
large numbers of people with disabilities that right. "The
technology exists. The law requires it," says AAPD.
Individual plaintiffs include Dickson, Jocelyn Bassnett,
Linda Black and Thomas
Miller, all of whom are legally blind, and Christopher Butler,
who uses a wheelchair.
Other plaintiffs include the Disability Rights Council of
Greater Washington and the American
Association of People with Disabilities.
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