Voting Access Chicago – A Volunteer’s Perspective
Equip for Equality, an IL Equal Justice Foundation grantee, is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing the human and civil rights of children and adults with disabilities in Illinois. Through a combination of training, self-advocacy assistance, public policy, and legal services, Equip for Equality aims to remove the barriers that prevent individuals from being productive, independent and successful in all aspects of their lives.
One initiative which sought to do just that was the Voting Access Chicago project, conducted in conjunction with the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners on election day, 2016, which I had the great pleasure to take part in.
The initiative, spearheaded by Equip for Equality, called for nearly 300 volunteers to visit over 1700 polling places over the course of November 8th and conduct short surveys to measure ADA compliance. Volunteers were given tools and training to complete the measurements and assessments.
Our focus consisted of several parts. First, all entrances needed to be inspected to ensure the passages were free of obstacles or obstructions. Next, slopes were measured to guarantee secure transit. Finally, once inside the polling places, the routes were examined for ease of travel to private polling booths for those with disabilities.
Each of the seven polling places I visited made every effort to ensure access and ease, yet some areas were consistently lacking, perhaps due more to circumstance than effort. Several of the polling places lacked handrails alongside ramps, which would provide much needed support. Several had doors which were exceedingly heavy, and might impede someone with a disability from entering the premises without assistance.
Along with noting inadequacies, volunteers noted ways they could be remedied, both short term and long term, to ensure equal access to all Chicago residents and voters. This includes remedies such as temporary ramps and railings, repairing uneven sidewalks, and better labeling entrances. I had the opportunity to speak with several voters with disabilities, who were excited to see much needed changes being enacted.
Chicago is home to 460,000 individuals with disabilities, and this project will go a long way in ensuring their access and ability to vote. Several years in the making, this project is one of the final steps in implementing the Help America Vote Act of 2002.
I strongly believe in equal rights of all American citizens and was thrilled to be a part of an initiative that will help to improve the voting experience for so many. The data collected by volunteers will be used to make changes to local polling places, so that by the next election each will be ready and equipped to offer those with disabilities the same privacy and independence offered to all voters.
Kerenina Rosario serves as a Communications Intern at the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation, and is a Communications Major at the University of Illinois in Chicago where she will be graduating in the Spring of 2017.