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CAPITOL EXCLUSIVE: NY disability rights advocates tackle a mountain of barriers

  • / Updated:
  • Edwin Viera 

New York disability rights advocates are working to break barriers in numerous legislative areas, including those in transportation, housing, and employment. Another area of focus is voting and accessible polling places. A Brennan Center for Justice report finds almost all of New York’s polling places aren’t disability accessible – leaving them unable to accommodate a quarter of the state’s population.

Sharon McLennon-Wier, executive director with the Center for Independence of the Disabled New York, said this can be improved.

“We’re looking at accessible ballots, especially electronic ballots
for those who are blind, visually impaired, learning disabled. If they’re able to submit an accessible ballot through absentee ballots that would be helpful because maybe they’re unable to get someone to get them to the polls,” she said.

She added the State Election Board should also train poll workers on using ballot marking devices. The Brennan Center’s report finds in 42% of polling places surveyed, ballot marking devices weren’t set up to ensure a disabled voter’s privacy. Bills about training poll workers and enabling electronic absentee ballots are pending in the Assembly’s Elections Committee.


In education, McLennon-Wier said proper sexual education for people with disabilities is important. Certain disabilities might require a person to have help with daily life, but she noted this can leave a person in more vulnerable situations. Providing this kind of education could help reduce the amount of sexual assault people with disabilities face.

“So, we want people with disabilities to be taught about their bodies, taught about inappropriate touching, taught about how to get good reproductive healthcare, how to understand hygiene, good health, regarding the reproductive process,” she continued.

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics finds sexual assaults of disabled people rose 27% between 2017 and 2019. Moreover, a 2023 survey notes 48% of women with disabilities have experienced sexual assault or harassment in the workplace.