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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

Civil Rights & the ADA

Organizers Forum: REV UP! Registering Voters with Disabilities

  • Tuesday, July 18, 2017
  • 1:00-2:00 p.m. Eastern
  • RSVP online


  • Zach Baldwin, Director of Outreach, American Association of People with Disabilities
  • Molly Broadway, Training and Technical Specialist for Voting Rights, Disability Rights Texas
  • Sha Stephens, Executive Director, Arkansas State Independent Living Council (ARSILC)
  • Maggie Knowles, PAVA and Development Coordinator, South Carolina P&A

National Disability Voter Registration Week is July 10-14! Time to REV UP — Register, Educate, Vote, Use your Power! Please join this call to hear what exciting things are happening around the country to get more people with disabilities registered to vote, and learn what you can do in your local community.  [Read more…]

Action Alert: Pledge to Promote the Disability Vote This Summer

2017 may be an off year for national elections, but across the country, registering to vote and participating in local elections are as important as ever. This summer, there are many ways to get involved with promoting voter registration and exercising the right to vote, from participating in National Disability Voter Registration Week to supporting National Voter Registration Day.

National Disability Voter Registration Week (NDVRW) 

35th Anniversary Logo: NCIL – National Council on Independent Living. Celebrating 35 Years of Advocacy. Graphic features party candles.This year, the American Association of People with Disabilities’ National Disability Voter Registration Week (NDVRW) falls on July 17th to 21st, 2017. There are several ways to get involved:

  • Sign your organization on as a supporter of the Rev UP campaign and NDVRW.
  • Organize a voter registration event in your community or at your CIL.
  • Ask your local elected officials, such as your mayor, governor, or city council, to issue a Proclamation declaring the 17th to the 21st National Disability Voter Registration Week in your area.
  • Send out press releases or social media posts in support of the week on your CIL’s platforms.
  • Get more ideas on ways to celebrate and support NDVRW, including sample social media posts, toolkits for setting up voter registration events, and more, on the AAPD’s NDVRW page.

National Voter Registration Day 

Established in 2012, National Voter Registration Day (NVRW) was established as a national holiday to promote the importance of voting and to celebrate the right to vote. This year, NVRW falls on Tuesday, September 26, 2017. CILs and SILCs are encouraged to sign on as partners of NVRW to promote it within the disability community and to show that disability organizations value voter registration and voting! Sign on to become a partner of NVRW today.

If you have any questions, please contact Sarah Blahovec, Disability Vote Organizer, at or 202-207-0334 ext. 1103.

NCIL Letter to Vice President Pence on the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity

On May 16th, NCIL penned this letter to Vice President Pence on its concerns on the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, and asked that the Commission examines issues of inaccessibility and vote suppression in the election system.

Dear Vice President Pence,

NCIL logo - National Council on Independent LivingOn May 11, President Trump issued an executive order establishing the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. We stand in solidarity with the rest of the civil rights community in expressing concern that the commission’s expressed goals of examining dubious claims of voter fraud could further disenfranchise people of color and people with disabilities. NCIL hopes that the commission will instead explore the well-documented issues of voting inaccessibility and vote suppression that have made exercising the right to vote more difficult for marginalized communities.

NCIL urges the commission to focus on these issues:

  • Accessibility of polling places and voting equipment on Election Day is still not equitable for people with disabilities. According to a study by Rutgers University of the 2012 election, “30.1% of voters with disabilities reported difficulty in voting at a polling place…compared to 8.4% of voters without disabilities.”
  • With the increasing use of the internet, the way that people learn about and participate in elections is changing rapidly. Unfortunately, many election information and voter registration websites are not accessible to people with disabilities, especially people who are blind or low vision, have cognitive disabilities, or have mobility disabilities.
  • Voter ID laws, which have been created for the alleged purpose of upholding voting integrity, actually suppress the vote for marginalized populations. For example,
    • Over 7% of people with disabilities do not have a government-issued current photo ID. Obtaining an ID is particularly difficult for some older Americans and people with disabilities that prevent them from driving, as they are unable to travel to obtain the ID.
    • According to the American Civil Liberties Union, people of color disproportionately lack government-issued photo ID, with up to 25% of African Americans lacking an ID, as opposed to 8% of Whites. There is a higher rate of disability in communities of color, so disabled people of color risk being barred from the voting process in a number of ways.

In an April 2017, the Republican-nominated chair of the Election Assistance Commission, Matthew Masterson stated that voter fraud is “not widespread. It’s not an epidemic.” The current goals of the bipartisan commission, which will be chaired by you, the Vice President, and vice chaired by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, are concerning to NCIL because they focus on examining theories on voting fraud, many of which have already been disproven.

Voting is essential to our democracy, and there are still many barriers standing in the way of equal voting access for all Americans. Laws born from concern about voter fraud have further complicated the right to vote for marginalized communities while showing little evidence of necessity for those laws in the first place.

We urge the commission to focus on the issues of voting accessibility. Inaccessibility of voting for people with disabilities has been well studied by the Election Assistance Commission, the Government Accountability Office, and many other groups, and we are in desperate need of the government to take next steps based on these reports to improve accessibility of the voting process, from registration, to voter information, all the way through Election Day. An accessible fair voting process is essential our democracy and to securing the right to vote for all American citizens.

Organizer’s Forum: Threats to the ADA (H.R. 620)

  • Tuesday, May 16, 2017; 1:00-2:00 p.m. Eastern
  • Call-in: 1-515-739-1285
  • Passcode: 521847#
  • RSVP online

Learn about federal legislation that threatens the civil rights of people with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act and find out what you can do about it. The so-called ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 (H.R. 620) would make it difficult for people with disabilities to enforce their rights to access public accommodations under the ADA, by requiring the person to identify ADA violations, notify the business, and allow the business a lengthy period to provide access — even though businesses have now had 27 years to comply with the law! On the call we’ll talk about visits to members of Congress, and other ways you can stop this bill.  [Read more…]

NCIL Applauds Two Class Action Lawsuits Filed Against NYC Subway System

NCIL applauds the efforts of our member CILs, Bronx Independent Living Services (BILS), Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled (BCID), Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York (CIDNY), and Harlem Independent Living Center (HILC), in filing two class action lawsuits today against the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) regarding the NYC subway system.

NCIL logo - National Council on Independent LivingThe NYC subway system spans the five boroughs of New York City. However, less than one quarter of the nearly 500 subway stations in the system are accessible for people with mobility disabilities. Of the 10 major transportation systems in the country, NYC is the least accessible. In contrast, Washington D.C. and San Francisco’s transportation systems are both 100% accessible for wheelchair users and others who have difficulty climbing steps. Alternative transportation options in NYC, such as the Access-A-Ride paratransit program, are unreliable and segregate people with disabilities from their fellow NYC residents.

The lawsuit alleges that though the MTA has had the resources to make their stations accessible over the past several decades, they have chosen not to consider accessibility as a priority. The plaintiffs claim that the inaccessibility of the NYC subway system violates the New York City Human Rights Law as well as the city administrative code.

We support our member CILs in this effort and salute their commitment to equal access for all!

For more information, see below:

Urgent Action Needed to Protect the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The efforts to roll back the rights of people with disabilities through ADA Notification bills like H.R. 620 are gaining momentum in Congress. While similar bills have been unable to garner enough support to pass into law, we do not expect that to be the case in the 115th. This bill continues to gain support from both sides of the aisle in Congress, and it’s on us to fight it!

H.R. 620 would create additional barriers to seeing our rights enforced under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In addition to requiring that businesses in violation of the ADA be provided with a very specific written notice by the person who encountered the access barrier, those businesses would then be allowed a lengthy timeframe to “make substantial progress in removing the barrier.” Not only would this remove any incentive for businesses to come into compliance with the ADA before receiving a notification, but it would also shift the onus of monitoring compliance to the very people being discriminated against! Twenty-seven years after the ADA was signed into law, this is unacceptable. H.R. 620 would be a major setback for people with disabilities.

We need you to take action! We hope you have already been in touch with your Representatives about the dangers of this bill. Please keep it up! Please tell your Representatives to OPPOSE H.R. 620 and any other bill that would weaken the ADA, thereby weakening the protections for people with disabilities all over the country.

Please call your Representatives today. Have everyone from your organization call. And then call them again tomorrow! You can get in touch with your Representatives by calling the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. You can find additional contact information for them by visiting

Note: If your Representative is on the Judiciary Committee, it is especially important for you to contact them now! The list of Committee members is below.  [Read more…]

You’re Invited! DC Office of Disability Rights Event – Suicide: It’s Time to Talk about It

On May 3, 2017 from 10 am to 1 pm, we are going to have a frank discussion about suicide, its impact, and what to do when faced with the topic. We will have representatives from District agencies for a panel discussion and interaction with audience members.

  • When: Wednesday, May 3, 2017; 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
  • Where: 441 4th Street, NW-One Judiciary Square / Old Council Chambers-1st Floor, South Lobby

This event is being hosted by the Office of Disability Rights (ODR), the Commission on Persons with Disabilities, the Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs (MOVA), the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), the Department of Health (DOH), the Department of Behavioral Health (DBH), and District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS).

An Update from the NCIL Mental Health Subcommittee

The NCIL Mental Health Subcommittee appreciates the work of NCIL members over the last few years. We worked hard to fight repressive legislation on mental health. A more palatable version of the legislation finally passed in December as part of the bipartisan CURES bill, Public Law 114-255.

The Subcommittee is now working to ensure that the CURES Act is implemented as supportively as possible for the rights of people with disabilities. Most of the provisions that were included to get support of liberals and moderates will require appropriations. The Subcommittee is also monitoring new legislation to support increased institutionalization of people with psychiatric disability. We will be supporting greater access to services and opposing greater use of institutions.

The forces that led to passage of the CURES bill are largely still present. These include a desire to limit mass killings like those that have happened in Newtown, CT and elsewhere in recent years. When this desire comes up against the powerful gun lobby, scapegoating those labeled with “mental illness” has seemed like the only politically viable solution. The increased tendency towards “law and order” in recent decades has also filled prisons with people who would have been institutionalized in state hospitals in earlier times and has, increasingly, resulted in police shooting people in emotional crisis. Many “advocates” see the solution to these problems as more “hospitals” for long-term institutionalization and more involuntary outpatient commitment.

At the same time, many states have successfully been innovating. Two of the most promising innovations are based on peer support.

Many states provide peer support as a Medicaid service. Often called “peer specialists,” these peer supporters can use their experience to help others through emotional difficulty and crisis. Centers for Independent Living often use our experience to offer and promote these services.

Another promising innovation is peer respites. Peer respite centers are run by people with lived experience of emotional crisis who offer others in crisis an opportunity to voluntarily leave their living situation for a short-term, “respite” stay. These entities offer peer support to their guests during a respite stay.

Perhaps there is way out of the current mess in mental health policy. As we promote access to treatment and other supports and services voluntarily, we can give hope to people in crisis. Recognizing our right to self-determination is necessary. Sharing our experience as people with disabilities must also be part of the solution.

If you want to help, the NCIL Mental Health Subcommittee welcomes new members. We also have a Facebook group, “Mentally Healthy Independent Living” through which we share information.

Election Administration and Disability / Elder Relations Are Coming Together

Public or press questions or concerns should be directed to Douglas Towne at or 844-788-6885.

VOTEC Corporation, one of the most experienced election administration firms, and Disability Relations Group (DRG), a leader in disability elder public policy, have joined forces. The fruits of this union will be the next evolution in accessible and user-friendly voting and election administration systems.

“Last time accessible voting was being discussed, the election equipment companies gave voters with disabilities what they thought we needed. This time VOTEC is asking us to help design both voting and election administration systems. The result will be a level of access and user friendliness that will be leaps and bounds ahead of current systems.” said Douglas Towne, Chairman of DRG. He went on, “The combined intent of VOTEC and DRG is not only to make voting more accessible and user-friendly to more voters with a wider range of needs but to make election administration systems equally as accessible and user-friendly. This will open up not only volunteer but employment positions as well within the election administration field for people with disabilities.”  [Read more…]

We Need You In Emergency Management! An Update from the NCIL Emergency Preparedness Subcommittee

NCIL’s Emergency Preparedness Subcommittee has been busy! The fact of the matter is: as long as there are disasters happening, we have work to do and we need your help!

Advocating for the rights of individuals with disabilities affected by disaster is a relatively new path for many. Fortunately, disability inclusion in emergency management is an issue that has caught the attention of a small but powerful group of advocates, most of whom, we are proud to say, serve on this Subcommittee. The need for more involvement is growing as threats and disasters increase in this country and worldwide.

In recent months, the Emergency Preparedness Subcommittee, with the NCIL Board’s approval, has written several letters to various entities addressing injustice in emergency management and suggesting more appropriate means of disability inclusion. The New York City Emergency Management Office produced a training video for shelter staff and volunteers regarding interaction with and services to individuals with disabilities residing in a shelter. The video does not address several key issues faced by individuals with disabilities when they have evacuated their home for safety in a shelter. The video was a required result of the Notice of Settlement of Class Action Lawsuit: Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled v. City of New York. And yet, New York refused to take any of the plaintiff’s suggestions and recommendations before completing production. The EP Subcommittee drafted a letter to Commissioner Esposito that the NCIL Board has approved and sent.

A second letter drafted by the EP Subcommittee was addressed to the Independent Living Administration (ILA) and pointed out the ways in which many CILs and SILCs assist our community before, during, and after disasters. This letter was written to request support for the CILs and SILCs that choose to provide much-needed services to individuals with disabilities affected by disaster, and included recommendations on ways ILA can support these activities. These recommendations are to fully support and encourage Centers and SILCs in their efforts to provide the core IL services (not hinder those efforts), and to consider establishing an emergency fund specifically to augment, complement, and supplement IL organizations that provide disaster-related services to people with disabilities in their area.  [Read more…]