FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Karen I. Ward, Senior Counsel
TTY (800) 610-2779
Barry C. Taylor, Legal Advocacy Director
TTY (800) 610-2779
EQUIP FOR EQUALITY TO PROVIDE ELECTION DAY HELPLINE FOR VOTERS WITH DISABILITIES
Helpline is Part of Comprehensive Agency Voting Initiative
CHICAGO (March 10, 2004) Equip for Equality (EFE) announced today that it will staff a Helpline for voters with disabilities on Illinois' Primary Election Day, March 16. The Helpline will provide voters information regarding accessible polling places and the rights of voters with disabilities, will document denial of access to voting, and will provide immediate assistance to voters where feasible. The Disability Voter Helpline number is 1-800-537-2632 (Voice) or (800) 610-2779 (TTY).
The Helpline is part of Equip for Equality's wide-ranging 2004 Voting Initiative. As the designated Protection and Advocacy service for people with disabilities in Illinois, EFE has been funded under the Help America Vote Act to provide voting education and advocacy for people with disabilities. "The Help America Vote Act has focused much needed attention and resources on the continued denial of access to private and independent voting for citizens with disabilities throughout the country," says Karen Ward, Senior Counsel at Equip for Equality, who is heading up EFE's 2004 Voting Initiative. "Through our Voting Rights Initiative, EFE is undertaking a sustained multi-faceted approach to eradicating all barriers to voters with disabilities in Illinois."
In addition to the Helpline, Equip for Equality's Voting Initiative consists of the following activities:
- Accessibility Survey. EFE will conduct an accessibility survey of a large number of polling places in Chicago, Cook County, and downstate on Election Day, March 16. The survey will focus only on those polling places designated by voting authorities as "accessible" to voters with disabilities, and will document compliance and non-compliance with accessibility requirements, such as ramps, door widths, and assistive devices for voters with visual and dexterity impairments.
- Disability Rights Training. Through its Training Institute on Disability Rights, EFE is training hundreds of citizens with disabilities and their families throughout Illinois about their rights as voters with disabilities. People with disabilities or organizations interesting in participating in free voting rights education seminars should contact the EFE Training Institute, at (800) 537-2632.
- Election Judge Training. EFE is partnering with the City of Chicago Board of Election Commissioners to provide disability rights and sensitivity training to approximately 4000 new election judges prior to the March 16 Primary, and will offer additional judge training to Chicago, Cook County and other voting authorities throughout the state.
- Disability Election Day Checklist. EFE has developed a Disability/Accessibility Checklist for use by election judges and poll workers on Election Day. The Checklist is a guide for judges to assist them in providing the maximum access to the polls for voters with disabilities. Election authorities interested in obtaining the Checklist should contact Karen Ward at 312-895-7330 (Voice); (800) 610-2779 (TTY).
- Get Out the Vote Project. EFE has joined with the Illinois Centers for Independent Living, and other disability rights organizations, to form the Illinois Disability Vote Project, a statewide initiative to increase voter turnout among Illinois citizens with disabilities. The project seeks to increase individuals with disabilities' awareness of the power of the vote to effect change, and to encourage and enable voters with disabilities to use that power in the voting booth. People with disabilities and others interested in this project should contact Karen Tamley at Access Living (312) 253-7000 (Voice); (312) 253-7002 (TTY).
- Implementation of Help America Vote Act (HAVA). EFE served as the Chair of the Disability Subcommittee of the Illinois State Board of Elections State Planning Committee to implement the recently enacted federal HAVA. The subcommittee identified key areas of concern for voters with disabilities and made specific recommendations to the State Board for addressing disability issues in the final State Plan required by HAVA. EFE will continue to advocate for fully accessible voting machines and will use funds under HAVA to provide training and advocacy services to voters with disabilities whose rights have been violated or are threatened.
Voting is the most fundamental right of a citizen in a democracy, and is the key to real power for people with disabilities," says Zena Naiditch, EFE's President and CEO. "In this election year, nothing could be a more important project for EFE to undertake. Equip for Equality is committed to obtaining full accessibility for voters with disabilities in Illinois."
Equip for Equality is a private, not-for-profit entity designated by the Governor to administer the federal Protection and Advocacy System for safeguarding the rights of people with physical and mental disabilities in Illinois. It is the only comprehensive statewide advocacy organization providing self-advocacy assistance, legal services, disability rights education, public policy advocacy and abuse investigation.
For more information contact Karen I. Ward at 312/895-7330 or TTY 800/610-2779.