The Lorraine Motel is the sight of one of the great tragedies in our history – the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We are here at the Motel and the National Civil Rights Museum for an important purpose: training about disability rights. It is altogether appropriate that we have gathered at this civil rights landmark for this reason. Disability rights are civil rights, and it is critically important that individuals with disabilities enjoy the privileges and freedoms available to all Americans. Today’s training will, I hope, enable such individuals to enjoy and to exercise their right to vote.
Congress enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. Just before he signed Americans with Disabilities Act into law, President George H.W. Bush explained its importance:
Our success with this act proves that we are keeping faith with the spirit of our courageous forefathers who wrote in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”
These words have been our guide for more than two centuries as we’ve labored to form our more perfect union. But tragically, for too many Americans, the blessings of liberty have been limited or even denied. The Civil Rights Act of '64 took a bold step towards righting that wrong. But the stark fact remained that people with disabilities were still victims of segregation and discrimination, and this was intolerable. Today’s legislation brings us closer to that day when no Americans will ever again be deprived of their basic guarantee of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department remains committed to the basic guarantee of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We do so in many ways, including by enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Among other things, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires equal access to polling places and the election process for people with disabilities.
The Civil Rights Division in partnership with U.S. Attorneys across the nation seeks to protect the right to vote through our ADA Voting Initiative. By this Initiative, we seek to ensure that people with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in the voting process, including in next year’s presidential elections.
The ADA Voting Initiative covers all aspects of voting, from voter registration to casting ballots at neighborhood polling places. Through this initiative, we have surveyed more than 1,300 polling places to identify barriers to access.
About a month ago, the Justice Department entered into a settlement agreement under the Initiative. That settlement agreement resolved a complaint by a Concord, New Hampshire voter who alleged that the City failed to provide an accessible ballot to that voter, who is blind.
And, a few weeks ago, the Department and Harris County, Texas agreed to make over 750 polling places accessible to voters with disabilities. In particular, the County agreed to create an effective system for selecting accessible facilities for polling places; survey polling place facilities to identify accessibility barriers; procure and implement temporary accessibility remedies, such as mats or ramps, during elections; and provide effective curbside voting. Harris County will also conduct accessibility surveys of nearly two-thirds of its polling places. In addition, Harris County will hire subject matter experts to provide technical assistance and training to the County’s staff, vendors, and election officials on how to provide accessible polling places, as well as to provide reports to the parties on the County’s progress in complying with the agreement.
The Civil Rights Division is committed to continuing this important work to guarantee the right to vote on behalf of all Americans, and we look forward to continuing to work with you. Good luck with your training today.