Welcome to the Washington Connection, the legislative and information service of the American Council of the Blind. The Washington Connection is brought to you by the ACB national office. If you have any questions or comments on the information provided, don’t hesitate to contact us and ask to speak with Claire Stanley or Clark Rachfal.
The Washington Connection is updated any time we have new information to share with you. The following articles are available as of July 31, 2020. Messages 2, 3, 5, 6,7 and 8 are new.
- One Number, Two Mainstreams, Three Great Ways to Listen
- New! Coalition of Disability Groups Demand Access to Virginia’s Inaccessible Absentee Voting
- New! Groups Demand Access to North Carolina’s Inaccessible Absentee Voting
- Statement of Solidarity from the ACB Board of Directors and the Chair of the ACB Multicultural Affairs Committee
- New! Settlement Reached, Accessible Voting for the Blind Certified and Will Be Implemented in Florida
- New! Air Carrier Access Act Advisory Committee Meetings
- New! ADA Celebrates 30th Anniversary
- New! 2020 Census Update
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To view this release in its entirety, visit https://acb.org/VA-inaccessible-voting.
Alexandria, Va., July 28, 2020 – On the heels of the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the 35th anniversary of the Virginians with Disability Act, a coalition of disability organizations and individual voters sued the Commonwealth of Virginia for excluding Virginians with disabilities from absentee voting in November. The Commonwealth’s current absentee voting discriminates against voters who cannot mark a paper ballot due to print disabilities, including blindness. Instead of voting absentee like other Virginia citizens, these voters must reveal their choices to another person and hope that person correctly records their absentee vote or risk COVID-19 infection by travelling to the polls to vote in person. Because some are immunocompromised and at greater risk from the COVID-19 virus, this is an untenable choice.
Virginia officials themselves have recognized the need to expand absentee voting because of the pandemic. As Governor Ralph Northam urged, “Virginians should never have to choose between casting a ballot and risking their health.” Yet, despite advocacy from the coalition, Virginia officials have not taken sufficient steps on their own to address the rights of blind or print-disabled voters in time for the November 2020 general election.
Virginia already has an accessible vote-by-mail system in place, but refuses to roll it out to counties statewide. The suit seeks statewide implementation of the accessible vote-by-mail system in time for the November 2020 election.
Sam Joehl, president of the American Council of the Blind of Virginia, stated: “We are disappointed that the Virginia Department of Elections has not been forward in articulating a plan that would provide for a private, safe and independent ballot for voters with disabilities. We call upon the Virginia government to uphold their legal and moral obligations by implementing a solution that allows voters with disabilities to cast their ballots safely and independently. The ADA was signed into law 30 years ago to prevent situations like the one we have in Virginia.”
“30 years ago, Justin Dart, the father of the ADA, exhorted people with disabilities to ‘Vote as if your life depends on it – because it does,’” said Eve Hill of Brown Goldstein & Levy. “Yet today, voters with disabilities must risk their lives to vote in Virginia.”
Colleen Miller, the executive director of the disAbility Law Center of Virginia, stated, “In these extraordinary times, it is critical that we protect the rights of all, and that includes the right to vote. With an epidemic impacting people with disabilities more than any other demographic, the Commonwealth must do everything in its power to ensure those voices are heard.”
“The National Federation of the Blind has fought successfully for blind and deafblind voters across the nation for decades, and this advocacy is all the more urgent during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Tracy Soforenko, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia. “The nation’s blind will not tolerate being treated as second-class citizens in Virginia or anywhere else.”
“It is appropriate on the 30th anniversary of the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act to remember that the right of equal access to the ballot is foundational to democracy,” said Steven Hollman, Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, LLP.
“Individuals with disabilities have a right to all aspects of the voting process, including remote absentee voting,” said Maggie Hart, Counsel at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee. “The U.S Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, of which Virginia is part, has already held that voters with disabilities must have equal access to a state’s absentee voting program. We call on Virginia to do the right thing for its voters.”
The lawsuit was filed by the American Council of the Blind of Virginia and the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia, and individual plaintiffs including Carshena Gary, Lori Scharff, Regina Root, Ph.D., Naim Muawia Abu-El Hawa, and John Halverson, Ph.D. It alleges violations of Title II of the ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Virginia law.
You can access the filed complaint at https://www.washlaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Complaint-Filed-7-27-2020-947-pm-ACE.pdf.
To read this press release in its entirety, visit https://acb.org/NC-accessible-voting-2020.
Raleigh, N.C., July 27, 2020 – Today, disability organizations filed a lawsuit against the North Carolina State Board of Elections for excluding North Carolinians with disabilities from their absentee voting program. The lawsuit charges the state agency with discrimination against voters who are unable to independently and privately mark a paper ballot due to vision disabilities. All North Carolinians deserve to vote safely and independently, especially during the COVID-19 crisis.
The lawsuit was filed the day after the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act by a coalition of groups including Disability Rights Advocates, Disability Rights North Carolina, the North Carolina Council of the Blind, the Governor Morehead School Alumni Association, Inc., and several North Carolina voters with disabilities, including Jo Taliaferro, Kenneth Durden, Kendall Gibbs, and Dr. Ricky Scott.
The North Carolina absentee voting program requires voters to fill out a paper ballot and return the ballot by mail, providing no alternatives to accommodate individuals with disabilities who are unable to independently and privately read and mark a paper ballot from home. These long-standing barriers to absentee voting are made more apparent as daily COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations increase across the state, and the governor has issued several executive orders recognizing the value of social distancing to reduce the spread of the virus. The state adjusted the absentee voting program’s witness requirement in reaction to the pandemic but has yet to recognize the barriers imposed by the paper absentee voting procedure, nor the specific risks the pandemic poses for blind voters. Without legal action, North Carolina’s absentee voting program will force individuals with disabilities to choose between their health and their right to vote privately and independently from home in November.
The plaintiff organizations have informed the North Carolina State Board of Elections about the inaccessibility of paper ballots, to no avail. North Carolina offers military and overseas voters the option to receive and return ballots electronically. Voters with disabilities could easily mark such a ballot electronically, increasing their privacy and independence in time for the November 2020 elections, but the Board of Elections has yet to offer this option to voters with disabilities.
North Carolina’s absentee voting program can be made accessible, as has been done in other states, including Maryland and West Virginia. Defendants are aware of the need for accessibility and the availability of accessible solutions and have failed to implement reasonable modifications to the program.
Dr. Ricky Scott, one of the plaintiffs, said, “Persons who are blind or vision impaired have the same right to vote privately as every other citizen in our state. We each have a right to a private, independent, and secret ballot. Yet, here we are 30 years after the passage of the ADA and we are still forced to go to court to exercise these basic rights.”
“Unfortunately, North Carolina voters are all too familiar with politically and racially motivated voter suppression efforts,” said Virginia Knowlton Marcus, CEO of Disability Rights North Carolina. “Yet many North Carolinians are unaware that our state’s absentee voting program has been denying the right of people with disabilities to a private, independent vote since its inception. Blind voters and voters unable to hold a pen cannot review and mark a paper ballot without assistance. We are bringing this lawsuit, 30 years after the ADA was enacted, to ensure that voters with disabilities who are unable, or choose not to, visit the polls – especially in light of the ongoing pandemic – have equal access to the voting process.”
“It is sadly ironic that the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act has come and gone and yet the blindness community still lacks equal access to North Carolina’s absentee voting program. With the filing of this lawsuit, the North Carolina Council of the Blind is taking the first step towards enabling our community to vote privately and independently from home just as our fellow citizens can do,” said Chris Bell, president of the North Carolina Council of the Blind.
“The right to a secret ballot is a fundamental right that most Americans take for granted,” said Rosa Lee Bichell, an attorney with Disability Rights Advocates. “Unfortunately, North Carolina has failed to respect that right for voters with certain disabilities. Through this case, we hope to ensure that all North Carolina voters are granted equal access to a private and independent vote.”
This lawsuit was filed in the Eastern District of North Carolina under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Rather than monetary damages, plaintiffs seek reform to the systems and practices that discriminate against voters with disabilities in time for the November 2020 elections.
Statement of Solidarity from the ACB Board of Directors and the Chair of the ACB Multicultural Affairs Committee
The American Council of the Blind believes that every human deserves dignity and respect. During these times when our voices seem sequestered by the weight of social distance, we loudly affirm our core values, echoing the collective voice of like-minded organizations who labor daily to dismantle the structural barriers that stand in the way of equal opportunity and full inclusion in our society.
Our hearts cry out in pain for the family of George Floyd and for all those victims of social and racial injustice. ACB calls upon our leaders to exercise peace and justice in a manner that embraces our mutual connectedness and lifts up the voices of those silenced by the systemic barriers rooted in historic and blatant prejudice.
ACB was founded on the democratic principle that every individual deserves to have a voice. Taking our core values to heart, let us learn from these challenging times so that we may become stronger as a nation.
ACB’s Core Values Are:
- Integrity & Honesty — That we may have justice for all;
- Respect — That we may all be treated equal;
- Collaboration — That we may work together wherever we may stand;
- Flexibility — That we are willing to change for the common good;
- Initiative — That we not give up, no matter how difficult the obstacles ahead may be.
Let us all be a voice for equality, and in the spirit of disability rights advocate Justin Dart, may we all “Lead on.”
To view this press release in its entirety, go to https://acb.org/FL-accessible-ballot-2020.
Tallahassee, FL – The Secretary of State, the Supervisors of Elections throughout the State of Florida and the Florida Council of the Blind have reached a settlement in the ADA voting rights case, Williams v. DeSantis and Nielsen v. DeSantis, and ensured that the blind and print impaired will be permitted to complete a vote by mail secretly and independently using their computer.
After years of advocacy, the Florida Council of the Blind and their members Jim Kracht, Debbie Grubb, Doug Hall, Carl McCoy and Dolor Ginchereau have fought for the right to independently cast a secret ballot through the vote-by-mail process in Florida. On Sunday, the very day of the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, after resolving a lawsuit with the Florida Secretary of State and all 67 counties, they have achieved their goals and a path to accessible voting by mail throughout Florida.
In Florida, everyone has the right to cast their ballot in secret and this is a core value in the elemental aspects of being a full citizen of the United States. Voting by secret ballot is essential to the integrity of the electoral process as it allows voters to cast their ballot without fear or intimidation. For my clients who are blind, and those with other print disabilities who need to use technology to complete a ballot, a paper ballot did not allow them the same benefits and privileges of every other citizen.
This settlement provides the means to do so.
This settlement balances the rights of voters who need this technology because of their disability and the immense pressures of supervisors that are required to run an orderly election in less than 100 days in the most contentious and scrutinized state in the United States.
This settlement provides accessible vote-by-mail through a pilot program in five counties, Miami-Dade, Nassau, Orange, Pinellas, and Volusia Counties. It creates a blue-ribbon commission, inclusive of persons with disabilities, to develop appropriate regulations, policies, practices and procedures to ensure that this is implemented throughout the State of Florida and requires implementation by March of 2022. The FCB, its members, and the Supervisors of Elections have worked diligently to come to this settlement, even yesterday, which was the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. We all recognize how momentous this occasion is and the meaning and purpose of this law to ensure that persons with disabilities have a right to fully participate in all aspects of society, and the ongoing goal to remove societal and institutional barriers in our country.
As the father of the ADA, Justin Dart Jr., stated, “Vote like your life depends on it, because it does!”
There are over 500,000 people who are blind in the state of Florida, and hundreds of thousands of others who are print impaired. Because of the COVID-19 crisis, many voters are afraid and reluctant to go to the polls and vote. The FCB and its members are very excited and look forward to ensuring that this voting system is implemented statewide.
Under the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2018, the FAA was tasked with creating an Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) Advisory Committee. The Advisory Committee is composed of both disability advocates as well as members of the airline industry. Delta, an airline ally of ACB, represents the airlines; Paralyzed Veterans of America, an advocacy ally, represents people with physical disabilities on the committee. Organizations that wished to sit on the committee had to apply and then were individually selected by the FAA. Claire Stanley, ACB’s advocacy and outreach specialist, applied to represent our organization and the blind community, and was selected to be one of the approximately 20 committee members.
The committee first met back in March of 2020 to begin conversation regarding accommodating passengers with disabilities from the moment they arrive at the airport to the time they leave their destination airport. The committee is responsible for drafting a report to send back to the Department of Transportation.
The Advisory Committee has further been divided into three subcommittees to focus on different issues. Claire sits on the Subcommittee on Assistance at Airports and on Aircraft and Related Training. This subcommittee just met for the first time on July 27. The committee is tasked with finding solutions to appropriately and adequately provide customer service to disabled travelers. All of us have stories of being forgotten, being forced to use a wheelchair, being late to our gate because of poor time management, and so many other customer service failures. Claire now has the opportunity to voice such concerns of the blind and low vision community. The subcommittee presents a helpful arena for both advocates and businesses alike to voice their experiences and be moderated by FAA employees. The subcommittee will continue to meet on a regular basis well into the fall as the subcommittee drafts its recommendations. If you have any flight concerns, contact Claire via email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Sunday, July 26, 2020, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebrated its 30th anniversary. This day should be remembered and recognized; no law like it existed before 1990. Portions of the language of the ADA were borrowed from the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehab Act). However, the significant difference between the two laws was the depth of the ADA’s coverage. The Rehab Act only covered entities that received federal funding. In other words, Americans still could not claim the right to accommodations in public businesses like movie theaters, restaurants, or shopping malls. But the ADA changed that. We, as persons with disabilities, can now demand the right to bring our guide dogs into restaurants or ask our employers for reasonable accommodations.
The ADA is made up of five sections, referred to as titles. Title I ensures the right to reasonable accommodations in the workplace. For instance, an employer may have to provide JAWS on your computer so you can perform the essential functions of your job. Title II covers any state or local government entities. For example, if you have a hearing in a county courthouse, you have the right to request any documents provided in an alternate format. Title III covers any public businesses like malls, restaurants and movie theaters. Gone are the days when a restaurant owner could tell you that you cannot bring your guide dog inside. Finally, Title IV provides phone accessibility for deaf and hard-of-hearing users, and Title V is a miscellaneous list of topics.
Despite the 30-year lifespan of the ADA, a lot still has to be done. Title I of the law ensures the right to reasonable accommodations in the workplace. However, the unemployment rate of blind and visually impaired people is still extremely high. And while we may have the legal right to bring our guide dogs into public places, more than a few of us have been asked to leave malls or restaurants. Consequently, we must celebrate this momentous occasion. And then we must continue to fight for our rights as blind and visually impaired Americans.
The 2020 U.S. Census is underway! The decennial census is mandated by the U.S. Constitution and is important to determine Congressional representation and federal funding for states and local governments.
Currently, only 63% of U.S. households have completed the census. This year, there are three ways that U.S. residents may respond: online, by phone, or by mail.
To fill out the census online, go to http://www.my2020census.gov. To take the census via phone, call toll-free 1-844-330-2020. The 12-digit code sent to your residence by U.S. mail is not necessary to complete the census by phone or online. The census is intended to be completed only once per person and once per household, so what you will need to complete the census by phone or online is the address of where you live the majority of the time.
Beginning in July, census workers from your local area may visit your home if you have not completed the census. The census workers have been trained in social distancing and to minimize contact due to COVID-19; however, the best way to ensure a census worker does not come knocking on your door is to complete the census online or by phone.
To get a hard-copy braille or large print version of the census information, contact Kim Charlson at Perkins, (617) 972-7249, or the ACB national office at (202) 467-5081.