Ensuring disability access for voters in Harris County

- Early voting continues, while Harris County prepares to be under strict watch by the Department of Justice on election day.

In an August filing, the Department of Justice found a number of Harris County voting locations in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, citing architectural barriers that impacted access for those with mobility or vision impairments. These ranged from ramps that were to steep to narrow doorways.

On election day, a team of 6 observers from the Department of Justice will monitor the polls in Harris County to ensure equal access for everyone.

Harris County explained a contractor reviews polling locations before each election to ensure compliance before they are finalized as a voting site. If a location is not compliant, a new location will be selected. Several sites have already been relocated as part of their effort to ensure compliance for the 2016 vote.

Houston residents Earle and Kathy Powdrell are incredibly familiar with the needs of those with disabilities.

"Our wheelchair van requires 8 feet, and this is not 8 feet," explained Mrs. Powdrell, pointing to the van accessible parking spaces in the lot outside West Gray Recreation Center, "so we just have to unload in the middle of the parking lot, but we're willing to do that because voting is very important to my husband and I."

Earle Powdrell is a rocket scientist. He trains astronauts like Scott Kelly on how to dock at the international space station. Ever since a stroke left him significantly paralyzed and only able to speak through a computer, Mr. Powdrell has become a national advocate for those living with disabilities.

Mrs. Powdrell cautions that challenges remain even after compliance is met. Long lines, for example. "It's difficult for a person in a wheelchair, or someone who's just sick, to wait in long lines for 20 or 50 minutes," she points out.

When casting their votes earlier this week, the Powdrells explained their poll location required voters, "to stand in line, then you had to wait on the stairs in line." Mr. Powdrell's wheelchair can do many things, but at 400 pounds it cannot be maneuvered up stairs. Mrs. Powdrell says there was an elevator, but that, "there were a few people who weren't so happy that we just rolled on in."

Which is why Mrs. Powdrell reminds her Houston neighbors that kindness is the greatest tool the community has in supporting those with disabilities.


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