Polling Place ADA Accessibility – Time to Take a New Look?

The continued enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) violations has now lead the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to target election polling places.

On March 11, 2014, the DOJ announced that it had entered into an enforcement settlement agreement with Blair County, PA under Title II of the ADA. Based upon a review of Blair County polling locations, the DOJ concluded that 86% of the polling locations contained barriers to access for persons with disabilities and are not compliant with requirements of the ADA.

Recently, on the "eve" of the DOJ announcement, DMR Architects was retained by the Township of Saddle Brook (Bergen County, NJ), to provide architectural services in connection with making doorways ADA accessible at a Township School used as a polling location during elections. According to DMR Architects' Vice President and General Counsel, Charles H. Sarlo, "those responsible for polling places typically overlook that the accessibility for voters starts from the time they arrive at the site of the polling place and exit the vehicle, which brought them to the polling place, and includes not only the pathway to the voting area, but all pedestrian routes and areas open to the voters, which generally includes restrooms."

Although the DOJ has a 30+ page guidance document for ADA accessibility at polling places, published in 2004, Sarlo cautions that the polling place guidance document must now be viewed in the context of the amended definition of the term "disability," as set forth in the ADA Amendment Act of 2008, which became effective January 1, 2009. Those responsible for polling places must recognize that an ADA disability now includes any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, including performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, walking, standing, speaking, reading and communicating.

In light of the recent DOJ enforcement settlement, perhaps those responsible for polling places should reassess their compliance with the ADA requirements.

DMR Architects is a top New Jersey architect dedicated to progressive, innovative & sustainable architecture, planning and urban design. For more information, connect with us on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.  


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