Disability Rights Ohio has filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Columbus on behalf of blind residents who claimed the state denied “individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to vote absentee privately and independently and to access its voter services website, in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
The group’s attorney said the state website is inaccessible to people who are blind because it does not allow use of special screen-reading software that translates written words into speech, reports the Ohio Dispatch. The suit, filed on behalf of three blind Ohio voters and the National Federation of the Blind, claims that, because Ohio’s absentee ballots are only available on paper, blind voters are unable to fill them out without assistance—an infringement on their right to cast a ballot privately and independently.
“Ohio voters request absentee ballots through a form that must be filled out and mailed in or personally delivered to the appropriate county board of elections. Although the form is available on the voter services website as a PDF document that can be filled out on a computer, the document is nearly impossible to find given the inaccessible design of the website and is not itself properly designed for use with screen access software. Therefore, because Plaintiffs and other blind and print-disabled individuals cannot fill out the form by hand or by using their screen access software, they must rely on third parties to fill out the absentee ballot request form for them,” the lawsuit states.
Ohio voter Shelbi Hindel who is also blind, explained why she filed the lawsuit, “Voting is important to me, and I want to be able to read through the materials and be prepared for the upcoming Republican primary. Current technology makes reading text easy for the blind, provided the text is available in the right format,” she said. Hindel pointed out that her polling location recently moved to a site further from her house, making absentee voting a more convenient way to exercise her right to vote.
The lawsuit, states that Secretary of State Jon A Husted, “failed to make the corrections necessary to his voter services website that would afford Plaintiffs and others with print disabilities an equal opportunity to access the important election-related information and forms available on that website.
Adding, “Because individuals without disabilities may cast their votes by absentee ballot privately, independently, and effectively and may use the Secretary of State’s voter services website to access information and obtain and submit forms, the ADA requires Mr. Husted to provide individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to do the same.”
Mark A. Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind, an organization who is also listed as a plaintiff on the lawsuit said that technology allowing blind voters to mark absentee ballots privately and independently is available, protecting ballot secrecy and enabling blind voters to be on an equal footing with all other voters.
The lawsuit asks the court to order the Secretary of State’s office to make the changes needed to rectify the problems before the March 15, 2016, primary election in Ohio.
Accessology, a national accessibility consulting company located in McKinney, Texas which assists public entities with ADA Transition Plans, points out that a basic requirement under the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) ensures that individuals with disabilities are not excluded from programs, services, and activities which include polling places and technology offered on city, state, or county websites.
In addition to buildings and parking lots, Accessology said that website compliance is often overlooked when public entities review their compliance under the ADA. Kristi Avalos, president and CEO of Accessology warns that in addition to expensive private litigation, all of the Federal Agencies are now prepared to withhold Federal Funding and grants for Title II entities (public entities such as city, state, and counties as well as school districts and universities) for not having their ADA required “Transition Plans” in place.
“This requires an experienced consultant to review not only buildings and parking areas, but all programs, services and activities (PSA) as well,” Avalos said.
(NOTE: If you are a public or private entity including a University, college, or school district and have questions regarding your compliance under the Americans with Disabilities Act(ADA) or if you are in need of an ADA Transition Plan, contact Accessology here http://www.accessology.com )