Disabled Americans encouraged to vote early

Local News

ERIE COUNTY, N.Y. (WIVB)–Polling places for some Western New Yorkers with disabilities might lack full accessibility, despite the Americans with Disabilities Act, so advocates say early voting does offer a better option.

“Churches, being exempt from most disability rights laws, in terms of access, can provide challenges for some voters in being able to reach their polling places,” said Todd Vaarwerk of Western New York Independent Living.

Vaarwerk points out, the more than three-dozen early voting locations in Erie County are fully accessible, which the other polling places might not offer on November 3.

“They are supposed to be able to reasonably accommodate them even if it is only temporary and only for days of early voting and voting.”

While absentee ballots may be the best choice for people with disabilities, who are likely to have co-morbidity issues, time is running out to apply for a mail-in ballot. Although they can be returned in person up to November 3.

“People with disabilities are more affected–or have the potential to be greatly affected by COVID than anybody else, so it is extra important that we try and do things in the greatest social distancing we can.”

As Independent Living conducted a virtual “Meet the Candidates” event, Vaarwerk did tell us if a person with disabilities cannot be accommodated at their assigned polling place, they can contact their local board of elections which can provide specialized voting machines.

“If you can’t use your hands, there are ‘sip and puff’ systems. You can select your choices and cast your ballot. The ballot is truly accessible to everybody who wants to cast one.”

Time is running out to apply for an absentee ballot, in fact, it has to be received at the Board of Elections by Tuesday night. If you need special accommodations for a disability, you need to contact your local board of elections as soon as possible.

Al Vaughters is an award-winning investigative reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 1994. See more of his work here.

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