People with disabilities can face difficulties in voting in elections in Chicago.
An internal analysis by the Chicago Board of Elections found that fewer than 10 percent of polling places were compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The board says that doesn’t necessarily mean most of those venues are inaccessible.
Max Bever, director of public information for the Chicago Board of Elections, says 90% of polling places are considered accessible. He sent a statement to WTTW News: “The Board has worked for years with the City of Chicago, Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Park District to carry out remediation in inaccessible places. While most Council polling sites display at least one feature that is not in strict compliance with ADA’s new construction standards, most polling sites are usable by most voters with disabilities.
Bebe Novich, senior voting rights attorney at Equip for Equality, says the buildings must meet standards set by an agreement with the US Department of Justice. These standards are for new construction, but most polling places predate the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“There is no simple, right standard for pre-ADA buildings, so the Justice Department says entities should use ADA newly constructed buildings as a guide… Any small deviation would presumably make them inaccessible, however many of them can be accessible to many people with disabilities,” Novich said.
The electoral board says it is confident that more polling stations will be available for voters by the municipal elections in February.
For Robin Jones, project director and principal investigator for ADA Great Lakes, the city of Chicago still has a long way to go when it comes to accessibility.
“People still struggle with transportation in Chicago, so being able to get to that polling place is a huge barrier… So we still have inaccessible transportation in Chicago,” Jones said. “Even going from that bus stop to the polling station. There are still barriers along our sidewalks that can be a problem for people. The municipal elections are in winter, so you talk about snow and we can have a long conversation about snow removal, which is a temporary problem but can be a huge obstacle.”
Note: This story will be updated with the video.