As many as 3.2 million Americans with disabilities are “sidelined” on Election Day despite 20 years of laws seeking to boost their access to the polls, a new study shows. Voter turnout for people with disabilities is 11 percentage points lower than non-disabled, a number that “doesn’t appear to be shrinking significantly,” said Lisa Schur of Rutgers University, co-author of the study in Social Science Quarterly. “If we could decrease the gap — I’m not saying we could totally close it — it could affect the November election, especially if it’s close,” Schur said. One problem is a motivation gap by many eligible disabled voters, who are often socially isolated and disinterested in politics. But scholars and advocates say there are still barriers for those who want to vote.
Case study: New York City, where a federal judge this week ordered the Board of Elections to do a better job to accommodate the city’s more than 635,000 disabled voters. U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts cited a litany of problems: wheelchair ramps too narrow or steep, missing handicapped entrance signs, and voting booths too close to the wall for wheelchairs to get to. The ruling was a victory for voters such as Denise McQuade, a 64-year-old Brooklyn woman who uses a wheelchair after contracting polio at age 3. She described the ramp at her polling place as a “ski slope.”