Disabled Kenner woman sues over inadequate access to polling places

Michelle Massey Jun. 8, 2010, 3:36am

A disabled Kenner resident hopes a suit filed against Jefferson Parish will mean better handicap access at polling places throughout the Parish.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, Denise Drake filed suit against Parish of Jefferson, Jefferson Parish Board of Election Supervisors and Jon Gegenheimer on June 4 in federal court in New Orleans.

"She brings this action on behalf of herself and other Jefferson Parish voters with mobility impairments against the Parish of Jefferson for its failure to ensure that her and other polling places in the Parish are accessible to individuals with mobility impairments," the lawsuit reads.

Drake claims the Parish is violating the ADA and the RA by denying equal and integrated access to polling sites.

In the suit, Drake details how her polling place at Alfred Bonnabel High School in Kenner is inadequate for her needs. To reach the voting area, Drake must use a ramp that leads from the school parking lot, up a curb and into the building, she claims. Drake says the ramp is excessively steep and lacks hand rails or edge protection that would prevent a wheelchair from sliding off.

Drake also says the ramp ends immediately at the edge of one of two parking spots designated for handicap access. If a vehicle is parked there, Drake says the ramp cannot be accessed to go up or down the ramp.

According to court records, the ramp was altered in August or September 2009 but was not modified to correct the steepness.

The plaintiff states that in March 2010, 69 of 72 polling sites were surveyed and it was determined that 78 percent had significant barriers to individuals with mobility impairments including steep ramps, inadequate reserved parking, inaccessible paths of travel to the voting area and high thresholds. These barriers prevent Drake and other class members from independently or safely voting at their neighborhood polling places, the lawsuit argues.

Drake asks the court to stop the defendants from making polling places inaccessible to anyone with mobility impairments.

New Orleans attorney Susan M. Meyers and Lafayette attorney Nell Hahn, both of the Advocacy Center, are representing Drake.

U.S. District Court Lance M. Africk is assigned to the case.

Case No. 2:10cv01657

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