electionlineWeekly on Iowa’s New Accessibility App, Tablets

[Image via sos.iowa.gov]

Mindy Moretti has a piece in the latest electionlineWeekly about an Iowa program that provides counties with an an award-winning Ohio app to assess and improve the accessibility of polling places for voters with disabilities – along with the tablets to run it. Here’s the story:

It was like Christmas in April when Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate provided all 99 Iowa county elections office with computer tablets.

But these weren’t your average tablet; each of the Acer Tablets included the ADA Checklist for Polling Places Program to help elections officials determine if their voting sites (1,681 statewide) are compliant with the American Disabilities Act.

The checklist provides guidance to election officials to determine whether a polling place has the basic accessibility features needed by voters with disabilities, or can be made accessible on Election Day.

Features of the app include the ability to take photos of polling place structures, and providing guidance for making temporary accommodations. Additionally, it helps counties with polling place layout, reports, and tracking supply needs for individual polling places.

While the state could have just provided the app to each county, an important part of the program was also providing the tablets.

“The tablets are an important part of the package,” said Secretary of State Paul Pate. “They enable auditors to take them to potential polling sites and take pictures with the device. Not every county auditor would already have a device like a tablet to utilize with the app, so it was important to make sure every auditor had one.”

The tablets were paid for with funds from a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Election Assistance to Individuals with Disabilities grant.

The ADA app was originally designed by the IT staff in Franklin County, Ohio board of elections which received a Professional Practices award from The Election Center in 2015.

“We are quite proud of the work that our team here at the Board of Elections has done to develop and share this software tool that is designed to improve the accessibility of our voting locations to those with physical disabilities,” Ed Leonard, Director of the Board of Elections said in a statement.

Franklin County shared the app with Iowa at no cost and officials in Iowa needed to spend only a small amount of money modify the app for use in Iowa.

The Iowa program is part of a Pate’s larger initiative, “Helping Veterans and Iowans with Disabilities Vote,” which is a finalist for the 2017 Ideas Award by the National Association of Secretaries of State.

“The Franklin County Board of Elections was very generous in sharing the app with us and helping us implement it,” Pate said. “We would be glad to pass on this information with other states and counties, but would refer them to the folks in Franklin County who developed it. This ADA Accessibility Checklist App is a wonderful tool.”

Pate said the feedback from auditors has been positive both from the counties and from the disability community.

“These tablets will enable county auditors to confirm that each polling site meets the current ADA Standards. This new technology will be very useful in assuring that all voters are treated uniformly at each polling location in each election,” said Rhonda Deters, president of the Iowa State Association of County Auditors and Grundy County auditor.

Rick Shannon, public policy manager for the Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council said in statement that the program is just one more step to make voting accessible not only to those with disabilities, but to all voters.

“The curb cuts and automatic doors that we all take for granted today were intended by the ADA to give individuals with disabilities greater access to the community. Similarly, this renewed focus on polling place accessibility will benefit not only Iowans with disabilities but all voters,” Shannon said.

Another benefit to the program is that the tablets now belong to the county auditors’ offices, so they can also utilize them for other election-related work.

“It’s another step toward modernizing our elections, which is something every county and state in the country should focus on. Making sure all our polling places are accessible to everyone is not just a requirement, it’s a necessity,” Pate said. “I am wholly committed to encouraging and helping all Iowans participate in the electoral process, and this technology is another tool in accomplishing that goal.”

This is a great example of cooperation in the elections community, both as a joint initiative of state and local government as well as an effort to share innovations across state lines. Kudos to everyone involved in making this program happen – and thanks to Mindy for sharing the story. Stay tuned …

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