Every citizen has the right to vote regardless of whether he or she has some form of a disability. However, in many parts of the country polling places are inaccessible. In fact, the Federal Election Commission reports that, in violation of state and federal laws, more than 20,000 polling places across the nation are inaccessible, depriving people with disabilities of their fundamental right to vote.
In many parts of the country polling booths are set in church basements or in upstairs meeting halls where there is no ramp or elevator. In other places there is no disabled parking, or doorways are too narrow. All this means problems not just for people who use wheelchairs, but for people using canes or walkers too. And in most states people who are blind do not have the right to a secret Braille ballot; they have to bring someone along to vote for them.
Locally, the Fairfax County Office of Elections has been working to accommodate voters with disabilities.
In Fairfax County Virginia:
All polling places are wheelchair accessible.
Every polling place is equipped with touch screen voting machines, also known as direct recording electronic (DRE) machines. These touch screen machines are designed to provide voters with disabilities the ability to cast their votes unassisted.
The light-weight, touch screen voting machines can be removed from the booth to accommodate disabled voters or those unable to stand or reach the machine in the booth.
Each touch screen voting machine is equipped with an audio headset that enables voters with visual impairments to cast a secret ballot without assistance.
Voters who cannot enter the polling place because of physical limitations have the option of voting curbside, using either the touch screen voting machine, or by paper ballot. They should send someone in to the polls on their behalf to ask an election officer to bring a voting machine or paper ballot out to the car.
Each polling place has a magnifying device available for voters who may have difficulty reading the paper or touch screen ballot. The touch screen voting machines are also equipped with a "zoom" function which allows the voter to view a larger presentation of the ballot.
The availability of accessible voting equipment does not obligate a voter to use the equipment. Any voter who needs assistance in casting a ballot because of physical or educational disabilities is entitled to request assistance. The voter may bring an assistant with him or her into the voting booth, or ask an election official to assist.