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 Clark Rachfal.
The Washington Connection is updated any time we have new information to share with you. The following articles are available as of March 25, 2021. Messages 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 are new.
- New! American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 Passes Congress, Signed by President
- New! AFB and ACB Applaud Reintroduction of the Disability Access to Transportation Act
- New! U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin and Representative Jim Langevin Introduce Legislation to Protect Rights of Airplane Passengers with Disabilities
- New! ACB Supports Accessible and Inclusive Currency
- New! Senators Markey, Capito and Reps. Cartwright, McKinley Call for Expanding Educational Opportunities for Visual and Hearing-Impaired Students
- Exercise and Fitness for All Imperative
- Disability Community Fears Paper Ballot Mandate Will Hurt Voters with Disabilities
- Amtrak Accessibility Settlement
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This week, Congress passed and President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, H.R. 1319.
This bill aims to relieve several key issues brought on by the COVID-19 health and economic crises. A total of $1.9 trillion is allocated in this bill.
Most individuals will receive direct economic impact payments up to $1,400 per individual and $1,400 per dependent. Individuals making up to $75,000 and couples filing jointly making up to $150,000 will receive the full amount per person. Payments will decrease gradually as incomes increase and will phase out completely after a certain threshold. Households will also receive an additional $1,400 per dependent claimed.
Unemployment benefits will continue through September. The bill maintains federal unemployment insurance payments at $300 per week on top of state unemployment payments. The first $10,200 in benefits will not be taxed for households making under $150,000. The bill also increases the amount paid under the Child Tax Credit temporarily to $3,000 for children between the ages of 6 and 17 and $3,600 for children under 6. Eligible families will receive up to $300 per child per month through the end of the year. Payment amounts gradually decrease for families making over $150,000 and individuals making over $75,000 a year.
The bill also provides additional funding to safety net programs like the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Programs covered under the Older Americans Act will receive an additional $1.43 billion to address the impact of the pandemic on the health and wellness of older Americans, including those felt by social isolation and economic crises. Additional funding is also provided for rental assistance and emergency vouchers for individuals who experience homelessness or are victims of domestic violence and abuse.
The CDC also receives $7.5 billion for vaccines, treatments, and personal protective equipment to respond to the pandemic. The CDC will receive funding to support vaccination efforts, conduct contact tracing, and purchase personal protective equipment. The bill also requires Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program to cover COVID-19 vaccines and treatment, and the bill provides health insurance premium assistance temporarily for certain plans and insurers.
Over $30 billion has been allocated for small business support, including $7.25 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
The transportation sector also receives funding to support transit costs, airlines, aerospace manufacturing, and airports. $1.5 billion is allocated for Amtrak, including restoring routes and supporting employees.
An additional $128 billion in grants are provided to state educational agencies and local educational agencies to support students and teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Elementary and secondary schools receive money to support distance learning and academic success programs, including those targeted toward students with disabilities and other social disadvantages. Higher education institutions receive $39 billion to support student financial aid and other costs. Childcare agencies, especially those in high need areas, receive additional funding in this provision through block grants. Any student loan forgiveness passed within the next five years would be tax-free and the forgiven debt would not be treated as taxable income.
To read this press release online, visit https://www.afb.org/press-room/press-release-archive/applaud-disability-access-transportation-act-reintroduction.
WASHINGTON (March 10, 2021) — The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and the American Council of the Blind (ACB) applaud Representatives Jim Langevin and Dina Titus for reintroducing the Disability Access to Transportation Act (DATA) as H.R. 1697, which would expand and improve transportation, especially paratransit programs, for people with disabilities. The bill was originally introduced in the 116th Congress and included in the House surface transportation legislation in July 2020.
AFB and ACB public policy staff advocated together for the DATA bill before, during, and after the bill’s original introduction in 2020. ACB and AFB together met with members of Congress, including Representative Langevin, to raise specific concerns about paratransit services.
“Equal access to transportation persisted as a barrier to full inclusion for people with disabilities well before the COVID-19 pandemic,” said ACB Executive Director Eric Bridges. “The American Council of the Blind and our nationwide membership applauds Rep. Langevin for his thoughtful approach to enable all Americans to get up and get moving toward greater independence, and we urge the swift passage of the DATA Act.”
“Lack of access to convenient transportation remains one of the biggest barriers to employment, community integration, and healthcare for people who are blind or have low vision,” said Stephanie Enyart, Chief Public Policy and Research Officer at AFB. “The DATA bill takes several important steps to eliminate this barrier. For example, many paratransit agencies require riders to schedule separate rides for every stop and to wait a long time between each ride. The paratransit pilot should encourage transit agencies to find ways to make paratransit a more convenient and effective transportation option. AFB is appreciative of the tools this bill provides for improving our transportation systems for people with disabilities.”
Having few affordable, efficient transportation options inhibits the job opportunities available to people who are blind or have low vision. At present, over half of working-age blind and low vision adults are not in the labor market, compared to only a quarter of Americans without disabilities. These individuals consistently identify transportation as one of the biggest barriers to obtaining employment, accepting jobs that are offered to them, or remaining employed.
In addition, the experiences of blind and low vision adults during the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly demonstrated the importance of transportation access for food security, health, and education. Sixty-eight percent of respondents to the Flatten Inaccessibility study expressed concerns about access to transportation. The DATA bill looks to the future by expanding opportunities for equitable and convenient transportation recovery as the pandemic subsides.
AFB staff worked closely with Congressman Langevin’s staff to provide information and feedback on the establishment of a one-stop paratransit pilot program, and ACB members lent their many voices of support during this year’s legislative seminar to ensure the bill would be reintroduced.
Under the paratransit pilot program, a rider would be allowed one stop for such purposes as dropping off children at childcare, picking-up subscriptions, or using an ATM. Because paratransit agencies are not federally required to schedule rides less than 90 minutes apart, paratransit riders must spend inordinate amounts of time to accomplish simple but necessary errands. The time burden may prevent people with disabilities from getting to work on time or traveling frequently in their community, and alternatives to paratransit may be inaccessible or prohibitively expensive.
In addition to the paratransit pilot, the bill also addresses other systemic transportation barriers affecting people with disabilities:
- The requirement to implement minimum standards for pedestrian facilities in the public right-of-way, including shared use paths, would eliminate physical barriers in sidewalk and other pedestrian infrastructure design.
- The increase in funding for the Section 5310 grants would expand opportunities to provide transportation services for people with disabilities and older adults.
- Improving Americans with Disabilities Act complaint reporting would ensure people with disabilities can easily report discrimination and facilitate the Department of Transportation taking action to resolve outstanding issues.
- The accessibility data pilot program would improve transportation planning by measuring existing transportation access for people with disabilities and evaluating the result of changes to the transportation system.
AFB and ACB are strongly committed to improving transportation access for blind and low-vision Americans. We thank Representatives Langevin and Titus for introducing this bill, and urge swift passage.
U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin and Representative Jim Langevin Introduce Legislation to Protect Rights of Airplane Passengers with Disabilities
Air Carrier Access Amendments Act would improve air travel safety and close service gaps that passengers with disabilities face in air travel
WASHINGTON, March 17, 2021 – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Representative Jim Langevin (D-RI) today reintroduced the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act to protect the rights of airplane passengers with disabilities, improve air travel safety and close service gaps that passengers with disabilities frequently encounter in air travel.
“We need to break down the barriers that individuals with disabilities face when they travel,” said Senator Baldwin. “Equal access to air travel for individuals with disabilities is about fairness and freedom. This legislation will enhance the rights and safety of airline passengers with disabilities, including our veterans.”
“Although we have made progress in the last 35 years to address barriers in plane travel for people with disabilities, I know personally that challenges remain,” said Rep. Langevin, the first quadriplegic elected to Congress. “It’s past time we update the standard of air travel and make services more inclusive and responsive to individual needs. This critical legislation presents an opportunity to build upon the Air Carrier Access Act by improving accessibility, enhancing assistance, and ensuring greater civil rights protections.”
“People with disabilities shouldn’t have to face extra obstacles when they travel,” said Rep. Titus. “This legislation will help make our airports and airplanes more accessible and accommodating for all.”
For 35 years, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) has prohibited discrimination based on disability in air travel. Despite this effort, too many travelers with disabilities encounter significant barriers — such as damaged assistive devices and wheelchairs, delayed assistance, ineffective communications, and lack of seating accommodations. In 2018, passengers filed 36,930 disability-related complaints with air carriers, which represents an 8 percent increase over 2017. The majority of these complaints were related to failure to provide assistance and seating accommodation.-
The Air Carrier Access Amendments Act is co-sponsored in the Senate by Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Bob Casey (D-PA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH). The House companion legislation is co-sponsored by Representatives Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Dina Titus (D-NV).
The Air Carrier Access Amendments Act will:
- Strengthen ACAA enforcement by requiring DOT to levy civil penalties for violations and refer complaints to the Department of Justice for possible further enforcement and establishing of a private right of action.
- Ensure new airplanes are designed to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities by requiring airlines to meet defined accessibility standards. These standards will address safe and effective boarding and deplaning, visually accessible announcements, seating accommodations, lavatories, and better stowage options for assistive devices.
- Require removal of access barriers on existing airplanes to the extent that it is readily achievable, easily accomplishable, and may be done without much difficulty or expense.
- Improve the overall safety of air travel for passengers with disabilities.
Senator Baldwin has long been an advocate for ensuring equal access to air travel for all individuals and she previously worked to include a number of key measures in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 to protect the rights of disabled airplane passengers and close service gaps.
The Air Carrier Access Amendments Act is supported by Paralyzed Veterans of America, ALS Association, Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago, American Council of the Blind, The Arc of the United States, Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, Cure SMA, Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, Easterseals, Epilepsy Foundation, Muscular Dystrophy Association, National Association of the Deaf, National Council on Independent Living, National Disability Rights Network, National Federation of the Blind, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, United Spinal Association, AMVETS, Blinded Veterans Association, The American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America, VetsFirst and Wounded Warrior Project.
“PVA appreciates Senator Baldwin’s commitment to improving the air travel experience of passengers with disabilities. Passage of the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act will move air travel into the 21st century by requiring airplanes to meet accessibility standards and strengthening enforcement of the law. Without these changes, passengers with disabilities, including paralyzed veterans, will continue to suffer personal injuries and damages to their wheelchairs when traveling by air,” said Heather Ansley, Esq., MSW, Associate Executive Director of Government Relations of Paralyzed Veterans of America.
“We’re proud to have Sen. Baldwin champion our efforts in alleviating difficulties in air travel for persons with disabilities. Everyone deserves the choice to travel by air without jeopardizing or compromising their personal safety and comfort,” said Scott E. Griffith, Government Relations Director/Treasurer of Paralyzed Veterans of America Wisconsin Chapter.
“The Arc Wisconsin supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who have experienced first-hand difficulties in their air travel, including having the assistive devices and wheelchairs that they depend upon damaged,” said Lisa Pugh, State Director of The Arc Wisconsin. “This important bill addresses these concerns and is an important step in ensuring that people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities are not discriminated against when traveling.”
“The passage of the original Air Carrier Access Act 35 years ago was an important step towards equal access to travel, but more work remains to be done. Disability Rights Wisconsin applauds Senator Baldwin for reintroducing the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act, which will increase access, safety, and protections for travelers with disabilities, who face limited recourse when faced with damage to their equipment or encounter numerous other barriers to air travel,” said Bill Crowley, Disability Rights Wisconsin.
An online version of this release is available at https://www.baldwin.senate.gov/press-releases/air-carrier-access-amendments-act-2021.
Alexandria, Va. — On Friday, February 19, the American Council of the Blind sent the following letter to Secretary Yellen and the U.S. Treasury regarding the proposed Harriet Tubman redesign of the $20 bill.
According to recent press reports, as well as statements from the White House Press Office, the Biden Administration is considering accelerating the redesign of the $20 bill to incorporate a picture of Harriet Tubman. The Council welcomes such a redesign, provided that the newly redesigned bill incorporates an accessibility feature for the blind and visually impaired. Inclusion of an accessibility feature is required by the federal district court’s injunctive order dated Oct. 3, 2008, which mandates that accessibility be provided in all future currency redesigns. See Am. Council of the Blind v. Paulson, 581 F. Supp. 2d 1 (D.D.C. 2008).
The American Council of the Blind has been striving for accessible currency for the past 45 years. U.S. paper currency of all denominations is of the same size, shape, and texture. The currency of the United States is the only major currency in the world which does not incorporate an accessibility feature for the blind and visually impaired. The time to rectify this injustice has long since passed.
Our currency stands as a symbol for who we are as a nation. As a nation, we must be committed to equality for all people, including those with visual disabilities. It is therefore imperative that the next redesign incorporate an accessibility feature. This action is not only required by the injunctive order issued by the court; it is also the right thing to do.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for the U.S. to make a significant milestone in history in two ways. First, by implementing the court mandate of 2008 and making the bill accessible, the U.S. would join 81 other countries who already provide accessible currency for people who are blind and visually impaired. Secondly, placing Harriet Tubman’s picture on the $20 bill would be historic as she would be the first person of color to be pictured on U.S. currency. I encourage the Department of Printing & Engraving to implement both of these actions,” said Peggy R. Garrett, chair of ACB’s Multicultural Affairs Committee.
Senators Markey, Capito and Reps. Cartwright, McKinley Call for Expanding Educational Opportunities for Visual and Hearing-Impaired Students
“Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act” establishes standards to ensure equitable and quality education for all students
Washington (March 17, 2021) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), and Representatives Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) and David McKinley (R-W.Va.) today reintroduced bipartisan legislation that will strengthen the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to ensure that visual and hearing-impaired students receive the best education possible. The Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act would improve services and educational opportunities for students who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, visually impaired, and deaf-blind. The legislation will also enhance reporting and evaluation measures for special education in each state, increase training for teachers and other special education professionals, and reaffirm the Department of Education’s mission and responsibility to ensure an accessible and quality education for all students.
This bill is named after Alice Cogswell, the first deaf student that was formally educated in the United States, and Anne Sullivan Macy, Helen Keller’s famous teacher.
“This pandemic has made it crystal clear how challenging and vital it is to ensure that our students receive a quality education to help them develop, grow, and thrive. And few have faced more challenges continuing their learning through this crisis than our deaf, blind, and deaf-blind students,” said Senator Markey. “Our education agenda needs to reflect the nation’s shared belief that a quality education is a fundamental right for every student. The Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act will improve access to personalized services and effective education for deaf, blind, and deaf-blind students across the nation and ensure that each is able to meet their fullest potential.”
“Every child deserves access to a quality education, and students who are deaf or blind are no different,” said Senator Capito. “This legislation would bring much-needed improvements to ensure students who are visually or hearing impaired have access to the specialized educational resources necessary for learning and progress. I’m proud to work with Senator Markey in delivering personalized care to help thousands of students succeed.”
“Thousands of students are learning with hearing or vision disabilities across the nation, and it’s critical that they have the tools they need to excel in the classroom. I’m proud to work alongside Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate on legislation to provide the equipment, services and training to ensure all students have the chance to reach their full potential,” said Representative Cartwright.
“No student should feel academically sidelined due to a visual or hearing impairment. As someone who is hearing impaired, I understand how crucial it is to recognize and acknowledge the needs of the people with disabilities,” said Representative McKinley. “This bipartisan legislation prioritizes supportive services to students who need them, ensuring that all students have the opportunity to learn, grow, and reach their full potential.”
Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) are also co-sponsors of the legislation in the Senate.
A copy of the legislation can be found at https://www.markey.senate.gov/download/cogswell-macy-act-2021.
Specifically, the Cogswell-Macy Act would:
- Require states to identify and evaluate children who are visually and hearing impaired so that appropriate services can be delivered to each student, and report instances when they fall short;
- Help parents and educators stay informed and up-to-date through written policy guidance released regularly from the Department of Education;
- Encourage states to plan for and commit to specialized instruction for all deaf, hard of hearing, blind, visually impaired, and deaf-blind students, provided by trained personnel;
- Establish the Anne Sullivan Macy Center of Vision Loss and Educational Excellence within the Department of Education to function as a national resource to better support students with visual disabilities.
“Despite years of implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), deaf and hard of hearing students do not achieve outcomes commensurate with their abilities. All too often, students lack the specialized supports, services, and environments they need. The Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act will clarify what states, districts, and schools need to do to close these gaps. We are thrilled to see the bill reintroduced and are committed to seeing it move forward.” – Dr. David Geeslin, President, Conference of Educational Administrators of Schools and Programs for the Deaf (CEASD)
“Every child can learn, and this critical legislation will ensure that every child who is blind, deaf-blind or visually impaired, has greater access to resources and education. We proudly join Senator Markey as a champion of the Cogswell-Macy Act and ensuring accountability, personalized services and a quality education for all students with sensory disabilities.” – Ed Bosso, President of Educational Programs and Superintendent of Perkins School for the Blind
“The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) thanks Senators Markey, Capito, Warren, and Braun for introducing the Cogswell Macy Act in this Congress. Since its founding in 1880, the NAD has constantly advocated for quality education on behalf of deaf and hard of hearing students. This act, if passed, would provide much needed and clearer guidance to schools and families on how to best educate deaf and hard of hearing children. Too many deaf and hard of hearing students are left behind every day based on false assumptions and misunderstandings of their abilities and capabilities. The Cogswell Macy Act is needed to ensure a more appropriate public education for all deaf and hard of hearing children.” – Howard Rosenblum, CEO, National Association of the Deaf (NAD)
“It’s often wryly observed among our teacher members that of course Annie Sullivan was a miracle worker; she only had a caseload of one. But that’s why we’ve named our bill after Helen Keller’s hard working and much loved teacher. Doing right by our kids doesn’t take a miracle; it requires a national-, state-, district-, and classroom-level unrelenting commitment to honor each student’s God-given individuality, and that’s at heart what this bill is all about.” – Mark Richert, CEO of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER)
“We support the Cogswell-Macy Act because it includes language which calls for appropriately trained personnel to work with children and youth who are deaf-blind, including interveners and teachers of the deaf-blind. Interveners are a critical component of a Free and Appropriate Public Education for these children because they provide access to the visual and auditory information about people and things in the educational environment that is necessary for learning, interaction and overall development. The language in Cogswell-Macy designates intervener services as a related service under IDEA, and this is critical to improving outcomes for children and youth who are deaf-blind.” – The National Intervener & Advocate Association (NIAA)
Physical activity plays an important role in maintaining health, well-being, and quality of life. According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition, physical activity can help control weight, improve mental health, and lower the risk for early death, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. Physical activity can also improve mental health by reducing depression and anxiety.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four U.S. adults is living with a disability, including 93 million Americans who are at high risk for severe vision loss. Adults with disabilities are more likely to have obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, or cancer than adults without disabilities. Physical activity can reduce the risk and help manage these chronic conditions while improving daily living activities and independence.
The CDC recommends engaging in physical activity outdoors, such as walking, to improve physical and mental health. However, adults with disabilities report fewer accessible environmental supports, such as sidewalks, accessible pedestrian signals, public/paratransit and walkable shops, and more barriers, such as traffic, crime and animals, for walking than those without disabilities.
An alternative to outdoor physical activity is indoor exercise at a gym, fitness facility, or in a person’s home. However, the CDC also found that the inaccessibility of many fitness facilities creates barriers for those with a disability to exercise due to the lack of accessible space, instruction, and equipment.
Call to Action
ACB urges Congress to reintroduce the Exercise and Fitness for All Act on a bipartisan basis in both the House and Senate for the 117th Congress. The Exercise and Fitness for All Act would promote the provision of exercise or fitness equipment, and exercise or fitness classes and instruction, that are accessible to individuals with disabilities. Social isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored what ACB and our members already knew – that the lack of access to accessible exercise and fitness equipment and instruction are a persistent barrier to equal access and results in deteriorating physical and mental health.
In the 116th Congress, Sens. Duckworth (D-IL), Casey (D-PA), and Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced the Exercise and Fitness for All Act in the Senate (S. 1244), and Reps. DeSaulnier (D-CA-11) and Young (R-AK-At Large) introduced a companion bill in the House (H.R. 4561). The Exercise and Fitness for All Act would:
- Require the U.S. Access Board to develop and publish guidelines for implementation by the U.S. Department of Justice for exercise or fitness service providers regarding the provision of accessible exercise or fitness equipment as described by the American Society of Testing and Materials allowing for the independent use by a person with a disability, including audible output and an accessible user interface;
- Ensure that exercise or fitness classes and instruction offered by the service provider are accessible to individuals with disabilities; and
- Ensure that the service provider makes available at least one employee who is able to assist individuals with disabilities in their use of accessible exercise or fitness equipment.
When meeting with your members of Congress, be sure to share your personal experiences when attempting use fitness or exercise equipment at public facilities. Share with them what it would mean to you to have equal and independent access to the tools and resources to take charge of your health. And encourage them to support reintroduction of the Exercise and Fitness for All Act.
For more information on this issue, contact Clark Rachfal, ACB’s Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs: firstname.lastname@example.org, (202) 467-5081.
WASHINGTON, January 29, 2021 — Today, the undersigned disability organizations issued the following joint statement expressing concerns over a paper ballot mandate.
How ballots are cast in the United States varies depending on what different jurisdictions offer to their voters. Today, most voters in the U.S. cast their ballot by marking a paper ballot by hand or by Ballot-Marking Device (BMD), with some use of Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines.
Most American voters are familiar with the former, which requires voters to mark, verify and cast a paper-based ballot. BMDs use an electronic interface to aid voters in marking their ballot. Once the voter has made selections with the BMD, the device directly marks on or prints the ballot. The voter then typically verifies and casts the ballot into the same optical (or digital) voting scanner that hand marked paper ballots are cast. BMDs simply increase the accessibility of paper ballots by allowing voters with disabilities to use these accessible voting machines to magnify, ‘voice,’ and mark their ballots. For example, a blind voter cannot privately and independently mark a paper ballot with a pen, however, they can privately and independently mark their ballot using a BMD.
DRE voting systems, on the other hand, allow voters to use an electronic interface to mark, verify and cast their votes electronically with or without a paper back up. Arguably, DREs provide the best option for voting privately and independently for all voters with all types of access needs based on age, disability, language fluency, literacy, and many other individual circumstances, as guaranteed to all voters by the Help America Vote Act and Americans with Disabilities Act. DREs eliminate the need to handle or directly verify a paper ballot, which prevents BMD voting systems from being fully accessible to all eligible voters.
Despite overall reduced paper consumption in many areas of daily life, as a result of technological advancement, paper-based ballot voting options have become the preferred voting system to many who believe mandating the use of paper ballots is necessary to ensure the security of our elections. However, it must be made abundantly clear, that the ability to privately and independently hand mark, verify, and cast a paper ballot is simply not, and will never be, an option for all voters.
Given that paper ballots are already the predominant method of casting a ballot in America today, mandating paper ballots is frankly unnecessary. Additionally, any mandate of a paper-based voting system will inevitably harm voters with disabilities. A paper ballot mandate would: 1) end all voting system innovation and advancement to produce a fully accessible voting system that provides enhanced security without relying on inaccessible paper; 2) limit voters with disabilities’ federal right to privately and independently verify and cast their ballots and; 3) ultimately segregate voters with disabilities.
Further, any paper ballot mandate that entitles voters to a hand marked ballot threatens the availability of BMDs for voters who rely on them to mark their ballots and drastically limits use of BMDs to voters with disabilities. This would result in segregating voters with disabilities away from the entire pool of voters by making them the only group of people that use a particular type of voting machine. Federally mandated segregation is problematic alone, but in practice, it also increases the likelihood that poll workers will not be properly trained on the machine, the machines will not be properly maintained or set up for use, and if the only available BMD is not functioning, there is no alternative option for voters who need it. Limits on BMD use will also saddle poll workers with determining who is “disabled enough” to use the BMD, a decision for which they have no qualifications or legal right. Finally, if the ballot produced by the BMD is not identical to the hand marked ballot or the BMD ballot cannot be scanned and stored with hand marked ballots, the voter’s right to cast a private ballot is violated.
To be clear, no paper ballot voting system today, ready for widespread use, is fully accessible. Even BMDs require voters with disabilities to verify and a cast a paper-based ballot, which does not ensure a private and independent vote. A fully accessible voting system by Federal law must ensure the voter can receive, mark, verify, and cast the ballot without having to handle paper. Most, if not all, market-ready voting systems cannot do this.
Before paper-based voting systems become the law of the land, the harm to voters with disabilities must be addressed.
American Association of People with Disabilities
American Council of the Blind
American Foundation for the Blind
American Network of Community Options & Resources
Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs
Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living
Association of University Centers on Disabilities
Autistic Self Advocacy Network
Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund
National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities
National Council on Independent Living
National Disability Rights Network
National Federation of the Blind
Paralyzed Veterans of America
Self Advocates Becoming Empowered
The Arc of the United States
United Cerebral Palsy
United Spinal Association
Amtrak is accepting claims for monetary compensation for people with mobility disabilities who traveled or wanted to travel from or to one of 78 stations and encountered accessibility issues. Claims must be submitted by May 29, 2021. On December 2, 2020, the Department of Justice and Amtrak entered into an agreement that Amtrak will fix its inaccessible stations and pay $2.25 million to victims hurt by inaccessibility at 78 stations. To read the full press release about the fund, visit https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/225-million-fund-available-justice-department-settlement-amtrak.
For more information on the ADA or this settlement, visit ADA.gov or call the toll-free ADA Information Line at 1-800-514-0301 (TTY 1-800-514-0383).