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Greater New York Council of the Blind

A chapter of the American Council of the Blind of New York; An affiliate of the American Council of the Blind

ACB National Legislative Imperatives for 2021

Exercise and Fitness for All Act of 2021 (S. 2504/H.R. 4756)

On July 28, Sens. Duckworth (D-IL), Casey (D-PA), Feinstein (D-CA), and Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced the Exercise and Fitness for All Act (S-2504) in the 117th Congress. This bill aims to make exercise equipment and fitness instruction fully accessible to people with disabilities. The bill would require the US Access Board to establish guidelines relating to the number and types of accessible fitness equipment gyms and other fitness facilities are required to have. After the Access Board provides guidelines, the DOJ will need to publish regulations relating to the guidelines requiring fitness facilities to provide accessible equipment and classes and ensure that there is at least one staff member trained in providing assistance and in operating the equipment. A companion bill was introduced in the House of Representatives, H.R. 4756, by Reps. DeSaulnier (D-CA-11) and Young (R-AK-AL). The Exercise and Fitness for All Act promotes the provision of exercise or fitness equipment, and exercise or fitness classes and instruction, that are accessible to individuals with disabilities. Social isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored what ACB and our members already knew – that the lack of access to accessible exercise and fitness equipment and instruction are a persistent barrier to equal access and results in deteriorating physical and mental health.  Physical activity plays an important role in maintaining health, well-being, and quality of life. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four U.S. adults is living with a disability, including 93 million Americans who are at high risk for severe vision loss. Adults with disabilities are more likely to have obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, or cancer than adults without disabilities. Physical activity can reduce the risk and help manage these chronic conditions while improving daily living activities and independence. Physical activity can also reduce the risk of increased functional limitations.

Call to Action

ACB commends Sens. Duckworth, Casey, Feinstein and Blumenthal, and Reps. DeSaulnier and Young for reintroducing the Exercise and Fitness for All Act. We encourage all of our members and friends to contact your elected officials and urge them to support the Exercise and Fitness for All Act in the Senate (S. 2504) & in the House (H.R. 4756).

To contact your members of Congress, you may visit  www.house.gov and search by your five digit ZIP code, or  www.senate.gov  and search by your state, to find their member website and specific contact information. You may dial the U.S. Capitol Switchboard and request your member’s office as well. When emailing your members of Congress and their staff, please urge your Representatives to cosponsor and support H.R. 4756 in the House, and urge your Senators to cosponsor and support S. 2504 in the Senate. If calling your Representative via their office phone numbers or by connecting through the U.S. Capitol Switchboard please let them know that you are a constituent and that you would like them to cosponsor the Exercise and Fitness for All Act (S. 2504/H.R. 4756).  When communicating with your members of Congress and their staff, be sure to share your personal experiences when attempting to use fitness or exercise equipment at public facilities. Share with them what it would mean to you to have equal and independent access to the tools and resources to take charge of your health. And ask them to cosponsor the Exercise and Fitness for All Act. Please let the ACB Advocacy Team know the Senators and Representatives you contacted by emailing:  advocacy@acb.org

Thank you and keep advocating!
The ACB Advocacy Team 
American Council of the Blind  
www.acb.org
American Council of The Blind
1703 North Beauregard Street, Suite 420
Alexandria, VA 22311

For the People Act (S.1)

The National Coalition on Accessible Voting is a coalition of national disability rights organizations dedicated to protecting, promoting, and expanding the right to accessible voting for people with disabilities.

The disability community is deeply committed to ensuring access to electoral participation for all, and we recognize the critical need for the For the People Act “to expand Americans’ access to the ballot box.”

S.1 addresses a number of voting barriers to make voting more accessible to all American voters. Among its many provisions, it aims to improve voter registration systems and vote-by-mail systems, restore federal voting rights to disenfranchised Americans, prohibit voter intimidation and caging, and prevent the discriminatory purging of voter rolls. Additionally, S.1 includes some provisions to improve voter access for voters with disabilities. It gives voters with disabilities the right to use absentee voting procedures to register to vote and cast their ballot; requires states to designate a single office to establish processes for people with disabilities to register to vote and request an absentee ballot; mandates the accessibility of ballot dropboxes; and establishes procedures to securely transmit blank absentee ballots by mail and electronically.

Concerns about S.1’s Paper Ballot Mandate While the provisions in the For the People Act that will expand voter access are critical, and its overall impact will transform voter participation across America, maximum impact can only be achieved if its provisions uphold the right to an accessible ballot for all Americans. Many disability rights advocates are concerned about S.1 Section 1502(a)(2), the Paper Ballot Mandate, which requires that all voting systems use “an individual, durable, voter-verified paper ballot.” This requirement applies to all types of voting, both in-person voting and remote voting (vote by mail, absentee, and other types of voting outside a polling place or vote center). In January 2021, 20 national disability rights organizations issued a joint statement expressing their concern with the paper ballot mandate. A paper ballot mandate would not allow for complete privacy and independence for voters with disabilities. It prohibits fully digital voting which allows voters to read, mark, verify, and return their ballot completely electronically. Voters who need accessible equipment would be required to use Ballot-Marking Devices (BMDs), which require voters to verify and return a paper ballot. Almost none of the BMDs currently used are fully accessible for voters with disabilities, particularly those with blindness, low vision, or motor limitations who cannot independently visually verify or manually cast a printed paper ballot. This paper ballot mandate will cause a decrease in remote voting accessibility in a number of jurisdictions where voters with disabilities have been given the option to vote from home privately and independently using electronic ballot marking, verification, and return. In addition, a paper ballot mandate will end all voting system innovation and advancement to produce a fully accessible voting system that provides enhanced security without relying on paper.

As currently written, S.1 attempts to ensure BMDs provide accessible verification and casting of a paper ballot for in-person voting but those requirements do not take effect until the 2024 election, while the paper mandate takes effect in 2022. This will reduce access for voters with disabilities in the short-term with no guarantee that the market will produce fully accessible BMDs for in-person voting by 2024. The paper mandate also will foster segregation of voters with disabilities by only requiring one accessible voting system per polling place. H.R.1 was amended to change this requirement to “a sufficient number” of accessible voting systems per polling place.

Remote voting is inaccessible when a ballot, delivered electronically, must be printed on paper and must be sent through the mail and cannot be sent over the Internet. The option to vote remotely is necessary for some voters with disabilities and improves access for voters to cast their ballot because they do not have to travel to a polling place, which can be a barrier for some voters with disabilities. Unfortunately, remote voting is inaccessible when a voter-verified paper ballot is mandatory, even though accessibility is a legal right. To make remote voting fully accessible, some jurisdictions are using systems that allow voters with disabilities and overseas and military voters to vote securely and electronically without the requirement of printing a paper ballot. S.1’s paper ballot mandate will prohibit this option, and eliminate innovation towards other secure and accessible voting systems that do not require a voter-verified paper ballot.

Proposed Changes to S.1
A number of disability rights organizations called for changes to be included in H.R.1 to improve these concerns for voters with disabilities. With the exception of an amendment to change the language on one accessible voting system per polling place to a “sufficient number” and an amendment to authorize research and development money for accessible systems, these changes were not incorporated into H.R.1 prior to its passage. As the focus shifts to the Senate, we will continue our advocacy and we hope to see all of our recommended changes for H.R.1 incorporated into the Senate S.1 bill. The following organizations support these changes: American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), American Council of the Blind (ACB), The Arc of the United States, Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs (ATAP), Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD), National Council on Independent Living (NCIL), National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), National Federation of the Blind (NFB), Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies, Self Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE), United Spinal, Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, and World Institute on Disability (WID).

The above members of the National Coalition on Accessible Voting urge Congress to incorporate several critical changes to the For the People Act that will ensure it advances voting rights and accessibility for all voters. We propose:

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