CIDNY’s Poll Site Accessibility Summary for the 2017 General Election

On Election Day, CIDNY staff and volunteers conducted comprehensive polling site surveys for accessibility.

The survey findings showed many of the same problems identified in previous years. This demonstrates that the New York City Board of Elections has not sufficiently addressed the barriers faced by voters with disabilities.

With surveys completed at 59 polling sites, we found that 35, or 59%, of the sites had at least one physical access barrier. Those barriers included narrow doorways, inadequate signage, pathways with broken concrete, non-ADA compliant ramps, and poorly placed machines.

CIDNY’s volunteers and staff completed survey training and surveyed polling sites in the 5 boroughs on Election Day. Volunteer Christine Serdjenian Yearwood says: “CIDNY provided an excellent training that prepared me to serve as a poll site accessibility monitor for the general election this year. It was a great experience, and I was happy to be able to serve in this way. I will most certainly do it again next year.”

If you have a story about access to your polling site, you can still fill out our individual voter survey at or contact Monica Bartley at 646/442-4152 or




Image description: IS 70 333 West 18th St., Manhattan. Approximately 1 ¼” high bevel with cracked cement creating tripping hazards and barriers for people who are blind or those using wheelchairs, scooters, or walkers.

Image description: PS 130, Brooklyn. Bad bevel. This beveled area is inadequate for people using wheelchairs, scooters, or walkers to access the sidewalk.

Image description: 777 Concourse Village, Bronx. Broken concrete along the pathway.

Image description: New Heights, Brooklyn. Traffic cone propping door blocking access to the entrance (a poll worker eventually came out to hold the door open).


Emergency Preparedness for People with Disabilities 5 Years After Hurricane Sandy

Five years ago, emergency preparedness efforts failed people with disabilities during Hurricane Sandy.

Three years later, we won a court case against the City on disaster preparedness for people with disabilities (Emergency Preparedness Case Settlement Release). We’re taking a look at what’s changed.

In 2014, we negotiated with the City to improve emergency planning for people with disabilities. This was based on the Judge’s findings in the court order (Stipulation of Settlement and Remedial Order 2014). These negotiated commitments include:

  • making 60 City shelters accessible for people with disabilities;
  • devising a better accessible transportation plan so people with disabilities can evacuate safely before or after an emergency;
  • providing accessible communications both in messages about emergencies and for materials in the shelters so people with disabilities can understand what is going on and what their options are;
  • providing better canvassing so people with disabilities stuck in high rise buildings or in their homes after an emergency can get help, including evacuation help if needed; and
  • developing a high-rise evacuation plan for people with disabilities so that those who can’t evacuate because of their disability can get help.

So – how is the City doing and what’s changed for people with disabilities? There is some progress.

But if another major storm or emergency happened today, many in our community may still not be able to get the help they need that is required by law.

By 2017, the City was required to make 60 shelters accessible and a plan for making the rest of the shelters accessible. The City now has 30 accessible shelters. They promise to have the other 30 accessible by September of 2018. There is no projection for when the rest of the shelters will be accessible.

For those who tried to evacuate but couldn’t get to an accessible shelter during Sandy, there is progress. The City’s 30 accessible shelters do have more accommodations and supplies for people with disabilities. These include priority charging stations for equipment, accessible cots, and refrigeration for medications. Shelters also have more information in accessible formats and wayfinding materials. Shelter staff and volunteers are being trained so that they are better aware of the needs of people with disabilities and how to provide accommodations. Yet, because there are only 30 accessible shelters citywide, getting to one of them nearby still may be difficult, if not impossible, for many.

The City’s accessible transportation plan was due in August 2017. We’re still waiting.

Will there be accessible transportation to get people to accessible shelters or to families and friends if an emergency happens today? What changed for people who waited at a bus stop during Sandy only to see accessible buses pass them by because they were full? Or who stayed at home because accessible transportation was shut down early and they couldn’t get out? We still don’t know if the City has enough accessible transportation for those who need it. Or if there’s an efficient plan to provide it or drivers trained to help people with disabilities.

Canvassers help those who need to evacuate after the event or who need to get to critical medical appointments like dialysis. The City’s canvassing plan needed updating to help people with disabilities. People may need accommodations and/or supplies directly after an emergency so they can stay safely in their homes. Thankfully, the City’s plan includes a more timely response than they had for Sandy. Canvassers are better trained in accommodating people with disabilities. But it’s still unclear how canvassers will be able to help many people with disabilities. For example, those who cannot get to the door, who cannot stand long enough to answer the survey questions, those who are Deaf or who are blind, and people who have difficulty understanding what’s going on.

A high rise task force was developed to provide evacuation and transportation plans for people with disabilities in high rise buildings. This could be before or after an emergency.

We are waiting to see a plan that includes how people with disabilities will get help evacuating safely before an emergency. We don’t know what accessible transportation will be available for them. Or how they will leave with their equipment, service animals, and such. We also have not seen a plan for how they will get home after the emergency and power is returned to their buildings.

We are concerned that nothing much has changed in emergency preparedness for people with disabilities. People were stuck in their homes during Sandy because the power went out, because they couldn’t transfer out of their apartments without help, or because they couldn’t get to accessible transportation in time to evacuate.

We agree that people should try to prepare for emergencies as they can. But many New Yorkers with disabilities also live in poverty. They are not able to prepare in the way the City suggests: they cannot stockpile extra equipment, food, water, or medication. Many do not have family or friends in accessible apartments or homes that they can stay with during an emergency. Many are isolated and may not be able to reach out to neighbors. They need the City to help them have an equal opportunity to survive an emergency, just like anyone else. The City has made some progress, but we still have a way to go.

CIDNY continues to watch and comment on the City’s progress. If you want more information on the progress of emergency planning for people with disabilities, please contact

Election Dates 2017

We encourage everyone to get out and vote. The Mayor, City Council, Public Advocate, and Comptroller all have a say in our issues like curb cuts, poll site access, Access-A-Ride, subways, and buses. Let them know we are active, we vote, and we are watching what they say and do.

If you have not registered to vote, you can still register for the November 7th General Election. Deadlines for registration are:

October 13 

  • Mail registration for General Election. Last day to postmark application for registration for General Election. The last day it must be received by the Board of Elections is October 18th.
  • In person registration for General Election. Last day application for registration must be received by the Board of Elections to be eligible to vote in the General Election. If honorably discharged from the military or have become a naturalized citizen since October 13th, you may register in person at the board of elections up until October 28th.
  • Last day for a change of party enrollment.

October 18 

  • Last day for a change of address.

If you have internet access, you can also register to vote or change your address for your registration online through the NYS Department of Motor Vehicles website. To use the DMV site, you must have a driver’s license or a non-driver ID. 

If you need help registering to vote or changing your address, please contact Monica Bartley at or call 212/674-2300. You can also contact your CIDNY benefits counselor who can help you.

October 19

  • Interested in volunteering to conduct poll site surveys? We’re hosting a training at our Manhattan office (841 Broadway, Suite 301, New York, NY 10003) on October 19th from 2 – 4 pm. To RSVP for this training, please contact the receptionist at 212/674-2300 or If you need an accommodation, let the receptionist know. For ASL interpreters, let us know one week in advance. We cannot guarantee accommodations like ASL interpreters if we do not have advanced notice. 

November 7

  • General Election – VOTE!
  • Help Make Polling Sites Accessible For All New Yorkers

    Center for the Independence of the Disabled, NY (CIDNY) has over 35 years of advocating for people with disabilities. Our efforts have brought about important changes. There is more work to be done and we need your help! We need volunteers in every borough. You will receive training on surveying polling sites. The training will take place at our Manhattan office (841 Broadway, Suite 301, New York, NY 10003) on October 19th from 2 – 4 pm.  

    You will be teamed up with another volunteer to complete the survey forms. This involves measuring ramps, doorways, and entrance lips. Each team is assigned approximately 5 sites in close proximity to where you live.


Freeing the Data for New York State Public Benefit Applicants

Written in collaboration with Erin Mackay of GetMyHealthData.

Finally, some health care news worth celebrating. Last month, Governor Cuomo signed into law a bill guaranteeing free access to medical records for people applying for government benefits or programs. This is an advocacy victory for all New Yorkers and people with disabilities.

If you’ve tried it, you know: getting medical records is tough. Too difficult in our modern, connected world, and yet essential to our ability to take care of our health, or care for a loved one. New Yorkers trying to document their eligibility or claim for public benefits are required to submit medical records.

The Center for Independence of the Disabled, NY (CIDNY) and GetMyHealthData, a project of the National Partnership for Women & Families, have worked together to help New Yorkers understand and exercise their rights to their own health information. We commend New York lawmakers for this step in the right direction. Effective immediately, this new legislation will remove one critical barrier for applicants trying to access benefits that support their health, well-being, and economic security.

Our advocacy work is informed by stories from real people struggling to navigate the health care system efficiently. At GetMyHealthData, we have documented how difficult it is for people to get health information for themselves or a family member. We have heard time and again that cost is a major barrier for people who need their health records. People reported costs for accessing information via patient portals and per-page fees for electronic copies of records. Some said they faced “surprise” charges of hundreds of dollars, with no estimate provided in advance.

CIDNY has heard similar stories. In New York, health care providers can charge up to 75 cents per page for copies of paper medical records, which can number in the hundreds of pages – per doctor. These fees can become an insurmountable barrier for low-income New Yorkers and people with disabilities. It can keep people from submitting successful applications for Social Security and Medicaid benefits, as well as some Veteran’s benefits. Without these records, eligible applicants are denied. With wait times for appeals of Social Security benefits and Veterans benefits of more than a year, a denial at the application stage often means the difference between keeping or losing your home.

We encourage more states to follow New York’s lead and eliminate financial barriers to accessing medical records so more of us can use and share the information we need to get and stay healthy.

Share your experience trying to get medical records or other health information in the comments and at