More than 35 million eligible voters in the U.S. — about one in six — have a disability. And in the last presidential election, almost a third of voters with disabilities reported having trouble casting their ballots — whether it was getting into the polling place, reading the ballot, or struggling with a machine. Despite some improvements, many of these voters are expected to face similar problems again this year. Ian Watlington, of the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), demonstrates why. He has cerebral palsy and needs to use a wheelchair to get up a long concrete ramp outside a church in Washington, D.C. “It is one of those ramps that everybody thinks is absolutely perfect,” he says. But as he struggles to get up it, it’s clear that it’s not perfect. Watlington says the slope is fairly steep, which means some people in wheelchairs could tip backward. At the top, he finds another problem.
“Right when you turn to get into the main door, you have a pretty substantial crack in the concrete. One that most people would have to bump over,” Watlington says as he bounces his chair over the crack. He then has to make a sharp pivot to get to the door.
This church was used as a polling site in this year’s primary, and the ramp was one of many potential obstacles cited in a report by a group called Disability Rights DC. Elsewhere, the group found locked doors, broken elevators and obstructed pathways — barriers not uncommon at polling sites across the country.