Ragged Edge magazine online


The long & sorry history of discrimination against people with disabilities in the United States -- and its likely causes

Sept./Oct. 2000         

man in wheelchair looking up
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  • 59% of New Hampshire's polling places in 1996 were physically inaccessible..
  • 47% of respondents' polling places in a nationwide study lacked an accessible path to the voting area;
  • 52% of their polling places lacked an appropriately sized booth for persons using wheelchairs.
  • Only 27% of Philadelphia's 1681 polling sites were accessible this year.
  • States interfere with the right of persons with disabilities to vote.

    At the time of the enactment of the ADA, virtually every state had specific constitutional provisions, statutes, or case law that prohibited individuals with cognitive or emotional impairments from voting.
                  From the Historians' brief to the Supreme Court

    In the past . . . people with disabilities have been turned away from the polling places after they have been registered to vote because they did not look competent. When one witness turned in the registration card of a voter who has cerebral palsy and is blind, the "clerk of the board of canvassers looked aghast . . . and said to me, 'Is that person competent? Look at that signature.' " The clerk then arbitrarily invented a reason to reject the registration. Testimony given to Congress before passage of the ADA, noted in Dept. of Justice Brief

    A deaf voter was told that "you have to be able to use your voice" to vote.

    A blind woman, a new resident of Alabama, went to vote and was refused instructions on the operation of the voting machine.

    Another voter with a disability was "told to go home once when I came to the poll and found the voting machines down a flight of stairs with no paper ballots available." On another occasion that voter "had to shout my choice of candidates over the noise of a crowd to a precinct judge who pushed the levers of the machine for me, feeling all the while as if I had to offer an explanation for my decisions." "Equal Access to Voting " Hearings before the U.S. House of Representatives Task Force on Elections, 1984


    Back to "The History of Discrimination" Main Page


    The light-colored type running down the edge is a listing of the hundreds of state statutes, session laws, and constitutional provisions that illustrate pervasive state-sponsored discrimination against persons with disabilities, dating from the late nineteenth century through the time of the ADA's enactment and (in some cases) to the present. To read this list, click here.

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