Almost 10 percent of residents have a disability — and just in time for the Nov. 4 election, the Disability Rights Center surveyed the accessibility of the territory’s 28 polling places.
The survey found that polling places on St. Croix were “very good” and those on St. Thomas-St. John were “excellent” overall.
“It must be noted that even though the overall grading in the different districts reflects very good to excellent, there is still a good amount of work that must be completed before the November 2014 election to bring the various polling places into full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act,” the report concluded.
In the survey, six areas of compliance were graded at each polling site: parking; the path from parking area to entrance of the building; building entrance; route(s) to voting room from inside the building; bathrooms; and the polling place. Most of the non-compliance issues were in bathrooms that are not wheelchair accessible according to ADA standards.
The lowest ratings on St. Croix went to Charles H. Emanuel Elementary School (D+), Eulalie Rivera Elementary (D+) and St. Gerard’s Hall (F). The Emanuel School was downgraded for the lack of a ramp at the entrance and wheelchair-inaccessible bathrooms. Eulalie Rivera has a wheelchair-inaccessible ramp and the bathrooms are not ADA compliant.
St. Gerard’s hall is no longer a polling place as the ramp is very steep, blue parking lines were hard to see, bathrooms were not accessible and there is a large step at the entrance of the building. St. Gerard’s has not been used as a voting site since 2012 – voters now use Claude O. Markoe Elementary School.Beginning in November 2014, Elections Supervisor Carolyn Fawkes said St. Gerard’s voters will use Claude O. Markoe Elementary School.
St. Croix’s remaining polling places were given an “A” or “B.” The John F. Kennedy housing community, Ricardo Richards Elementary School and Alexander Henderson Elementary polling places need to install bathrooms according to ADA specifications, the report said.
On St. Thomas, all sites were rated “A” or “B,” except Leonard Dober Elementary School, given a D+ because there is no parking spot for persons with disabilities and the bathrooms are not accessible by wheelchair.
Winston Raymo Recreation Center, Joseph Gomez School, Joseph Sibilly School, Ulla F. Muller School and Gladys Abraham School were designated “B” due to inaccessible bathrooms.
Charlotte Amalie High School, Oswald Harris Court Community Center, Addelita Cancryn School, the Curriculum Center and Bertha Boshulte School were the top-rated sites on St. Thomas.
St. John’s two polling places, Julius Sprauve and Guy Benjamin schools were rated “A” and “B,” respectively. Again, Benjamin was downgraded for non-compliant bathrooms.
“There has been some improvement. What’s heartening is the Elections System responded,” Amelia Headley-LaMont, Disability Center executive director, said during a news conference Friday. “Overall, the Elections System should be commended.”
Fawkes said the survey results have been discussed with the Elections board and forwarded to the V.I. Education Department to make corrections in the schools.
Glenn Webster, Elections board member and head of the committee that oversees polling sites, said Friday that the DS200 voting machines are ADA compliant and there are one or two Automark machines, also ADA sanctioned, at each site for voters with disabilities. Additionally, sip-and-puff devices have arrived to allow voting by inhaling or exhaling breath into the device.
“These machines are ADA so voters can vote independently,” he said
Before the general election, additional signs, privacy shields and lower tables will be put up and sensitivity training is scheduled for poll workers, according to Fawkes and Webster.
The Disability Rights Center is federally funded and part of the National Disability Rights Network. The mission is to advance the rights of persons with disabilities through advocacy, mediation, litigation and education, Headley-LaMont said.
Editor’s note: The earlier posting of this story has been edited for clarity.