More MS news articles for April 2001

Disabled Philadelphians Sue City For Right To Vote

Voters Demand Physical Access to Polling Places, Usable Voting Machines

U.S. Newswire
19 Apr 9:20

PHILADELPHIA, April 19 /U.S. Newswire/ -- The following was released today by the National Organization on Disability:

Philadelphians with disabilities, fed up by a city that has one of the lowest rates of accessible polling places in the nation and by the fact that the city government is purchasing voting machines that cannot be used by many disabled voters, filed a lawsuit against the city, they announced at a press conference this morning.

"I'm demanding my constitutional right to vote," said Jessie Jane Lewis, a wheelchair user who has multiple sclerosis and is one of nine local individuals who are plaintiffs in the suit. "Of the 1,681 polling places in our city, only 46 are accessible to wheelchair users," said Lewis, who has brought her own ramp to her inaccessible polling place in the past, relying on others to set it up so she can enter the building and vote.

The suit is the first of its kind against a city, and it comes after years of frustration for thousands of Philadelphians who are blind, use wheelchairs, or have limited vision or hand control that make many machines -- including the new optical scan machines that Philadelphia currently is purchasing -- useless to them. Ironically, a person in a wheelchair might be able to use these machines but not be able to enter the building itself; a blind person, on the other hand, could walk into the building but couldn't use the machine to cast a secret ballot.

The goals of the suit are to get the city to commit to a date by which all polling places will be made accessible; and to require the city to purchase electronic voting systems with audio output that are accessible. The National Organization on Disability (N.O.D.) is the lead organizational plaintiff in the suit. That organization's Director of Political Participation, Jim Dickson, joined the nine local plaintiffs at the press conference at Liberty Resources, Inc. (LRI), an independent living facility, shortly after the suit was filed. NOD is joined in the suit by LRI, and the Pennsylvania Chapters of the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind. The plaintiffs are represented by civil rights lawyers Stephen Gold and Thomas Earle, and constitutional law professor Seth Kreimer of the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

"Technology exists that permits all Americans, including those with disabilities, to cast their votes independently and confidentially in an integrated polling place," attorney Thomas Earle of the Disabilities Law Project said in announcing the suit. "Although some will point out that absentee or alternative ballots are an option for voters with disabilities, this is no longer an acceptable solution for people with disabilities under the integration mandates of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other legislation any more than it would be to any other minority group. Voting machines with the latest and most accessible technology have been used successfully in Texas and Colorado, as well as in Riverside, Calif."

"Philadelphia is to my knowledge the city with the most inaccessible voting places," said N.O.D.'s Dickson. "It is a shame that the birthplace of liberty and democracy now trails in assuring her citizens with disabilities their right to vote."

The National Organization on Disability, founded in 1982, promotes the full and equal participation and contribution of America's 54 million men, women and children with disabilities in all aspects of life. N.O.D. is funded entirely by private donations and accepts no government funding. For more information about N.O.D.'s programs, visit

Copyright 2001, U.S. Newswire