High school is ADA compliant – barely
As a polling site on Election Day, Goffstown High School is technically compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act access requirements, but more could be done.
That was the conclusion of Jillian Shedd of the Governor’s Commission on Disability and Wayne Perreault, a Goffstown resident and longtime advocate for the disabled, during a walk through and around the high school on March 27.
Shedd and Perreault were joined on the walk by Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Manning, Town Administrator Susan Desruisseaux and Town Clerk Cathy Ball. The purpose of the meeting was to assess whether Goffstown High School is compliant with ADA requirements for access during elections, and whether improvements could be made.
“This has to be fair and accessible for everybody,” said Perreault. “We should take the time this morning to go over the checklist and see what can be done. The ADA doesn’t have to cost a fortune. I’m just hoping we can all get something done here today.”
Among the options being considered is a temporary ramp or curb cut in front of the section of the building that houses the gymnasium and the cafeteria, additional handicapped parking spaces in front of the gym, additional signs pointing out access routes during elections and installation of a temporary ramp off a loading dock in the rear of the building accompanied with additional handicapped parking spots.
The meeting was called at the urging of Perreault, who has long advocated on behalf of access to public buildings by the disabled. Perreault, who had a kidney transplant last August and who suffered from neuropathy, said the distance between where current handicapped parking spaces are at the high school and where voting actually takes place is about 300 feet.
“That’s way too far to walk for someone who has a disability,” Perreault said. “The hidden disability thing – it’s always been an issue for a lot of people.”
Shedd said that while the Governor’s Commission on Disability has no enforcement power, it does make recommendations on how a town or school department can either comply with ADA guidelines or improve access to polling sites if the town is already compliant.
Shedd added that communities are free to take steps that go “above and beyond” what the ADA requires, and often that means volunteer participation.
Town Clerk Cathy Ball said typically about 50 students volunteer their time during elections to assist people as they’re voting. She said that includes students who use two wheelchairs from the nurse’s office to shuttle people who have difficulty walking from the school’s handicapped accessible entrance to the cafeteria where the voting takes place. In addition, she said, those students are easily recognizable because they wear T-shirts identifying themselves as election volunteers.
Assistant Secretary of State Manning difficulties with ADA compliance often arise because public buildings are not necessarily designed as polling places.
“The challenge is we don’t build buildings for voting,” Manning said. “We build them for other things, and this presents challenges for local officials.”
Still, Perreault said not enough has been done locally to remove all the Election Day barriers to voting for disabled people.
“I know a number of people who feel this way but are afraid to speak out,” said Perreault. “I don’t think it has to be this way. I think we can do better.”
Another option considered was to erect a temporary ramp off an existing loading ramp in the rear of the building closer to the room where voting takes place.
Desruisseaux said the next step is to wait for a report from Shedd that will suggest recommendations on how to improve voter access for the disabled. Once she gets that report, then Desruisseaux said she’ll present options to the Board of Selectmen.