Oct. 28, 2004 If the polling sites in the Virgin Islands were school children, there would be some unhappy parents reviewing grade reports today, especially on St. Thomas and St. John. A survey conducted by V.I. Advocacy Inc. to determine polling site accessibility to disabled individuals across the territory yielded a wide variety of grades, not all of them passing.
In a press conference Wednesday on St. Croix, V.I. Advocacy revealed the results of a study conducted on 32 polling stations on all three islands and gave recommendations for improving accessibility for the disabled.
St. Croix's polling stations received a "C" overall, while the polling stations in St. Thomas and St. John received "Ds" overall. The Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School earned the highest rate in terms of accessibility. (For the full 58-page set of results in pdf form, click here).
"Clearly, a number of the schools cannot handle individuals with disabilities," V.I. Advocacy Executive Director Amelia Headley LaMont said Thursday.
The organization is a "protection and advocacy agency for individuals with disabilities in the territory," LaMont said. It is primarily funded by the U.S. Education and Health and Human Services departments.
The survey was sponsored by a $200,000 federal grant from the Health and Human Services Department. LaMont said not the entire $200,000 was utilized, but a "good portion" of it was. She could not specify the total amount spent on the project.
LaMont said the survey dealt with the architectural barriers facing disabled individuals defined here as wheelchair-bound persons who may go to vote at the various polling stations. It did not address issues facing people with other disabilities such as hearing or vision impairment.
"In the foreseeable future we see ourselves taking on broader aspects of disabilities," LaMont said. "Our work will continue, not only in regards to the architectural aspect."
Besides Boschulte Middle School, other polling stations earning "As" were D. Hamilton Jackson Terrace Community Center, Elena L. Christian Jr. High School and Juanita Gardine Elementary School on St. Croix; and the Oswald Harris Community Center in St. Thomas.
LaMont encouraged voters with disabilities to take advantage of provisional balloting and utilize these polling areas if they were more convenient. Provisional balloting is a system where voters registered for a particular polling station are allowed to vote at another polling station.
"Provisional balloting is an excellent feature," LaMont said.
Felecia Brownlow, director of the V.I. Association for Independent Living, said she was pleased to know that the study had been conducted.
"There have been some attempts to make the polls more accessible," Brownlow said. "But there is still room for improvement."
Brownlow said she has offered to provide sensitivity training for the employees of the V.I. Election System, but has not had a response from the agency. Brownlow said she is still interested in providing the service.
Election Supervisor John Abramson Jr. said the Board of Election has a contract with the V.I. Advocacy to improve the polling areas for disabled individuals.
The board will utilize funding under the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to make recommended changes, Abramson said.
"We are glad that the study was done and will be implementing the recommendations to improve the polling stations," Abramson said.
After conducting its own assessments, the Board of Elections replaced the E. Benjamin Oliver and Anna's Retreat Community Center on St. Thomas earlier this year with the Curriculum Center in Anna's Retreat.
Additionally, the Central High School on St. Croix, which received an "F" rating, is no longer a polling site.
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