Access Ready Elections
When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990, the Internet as we know it today did not exist as the ubiquitous infrastructure for information and commerce. Neither did the information technology-driven workplace. Today the internet and information technology plays a critical role in the daily personal, professional and civic life of Americans. This also encompasses more and more how the election process works. Many election officials under Title II of the (ADA) are using websites to provide public access to election services. To support these activities, the internal or employee facing operations of election offices are driven by information technology. An Access Ready Environments policy is intended to advance accessibility across the information technology used in the election process.
Many websites and the information technology used in election offices render use by individuals with disabilities difficult or impossible. Barriers imposed by technology that has not been required to be accessible is, in large part, to blame. Emerging technology, such as electronic poll books, must be required to be accessible if officials are going to create an Access Ready Election environment.
Being unable to access websites and emerging information technology puts voters with disabilities at a great disadvantage in today’s election process which is driven by a dynamic electronic service delivery model. The Access Ready Environment is one where website and emerging information technology accessibility is designed in from the outset. It is vital that election officials require accessibility now because election systems purchased today will be in use for a decade.
For many, it is now difficult to imagine a world without the unprecedented access to information that the web provides. Why would it be acceptable not to provide such access to people with disabilities? No other minority would stand for such limitations and society would not allow such a thing. It is a fact that information technology is dramatically changing the way that election offices serve their constituents. Election officials are increasingly providing their constituents access to election services through their websites. By adopting an Access Ready Environments Policy, election officials can achieve and maintain accessibility on the web and through their information technology. Becoming accessible is only the beginning, without policies in place to maintain it the effort is wasted.
Through election websites, the public can obtain information or securely correspond with local officials. They can register to vote, and access HTML ballots that allow them to vote absentee. The availability of these online services makes life easier for voters, and enables election officials to operate more transparently, efficiently and cost effectively. As a closed system, election officials can assure the public of the security of their vote in a more transparent manner. For election officials to ignore people with disabilities as a constituency in the end to end election process is a tremendous mistake. This minority now includes twenty-five percent of the general population according to the Centers for Disease Control. An Access Ready Environments policy moves elections in the right direction.
The disability community, including friends and families, now represents significantly more than 25% of the electorate. People with disabilities represent a vast untapped talent pool ready to join the election workforce. Given the rehabilitation funding spent by taxpayers it is ridiculous not to seek out qualified individuals with disabilities. What is needed is the adoption of an Access Ready Policy that applies to information technology across the election environment. The promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide an equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities to participate in and benefit from all aspects of American civic life, including elections, will be achieved in today’s technologically advanced society only if it is clear to election officials that their information technology systems must be accessible.
Douglas George Towne
Chair/Chief Executive Officer – Access Ready Inc.