Monday night some members of the Town Council ignored the Americans with Disabilities Act and voted to allow polling in a building that has been inspected by the State of Connecticut and found to be non-compliant with the act. This places the Town of Coventry at risk for legal action.
Some Council members rationalized their vote by saying the Town Charter does not allow for voting outside of the district. The ADA however has priority and according to the U. S. Department of Justice the only justifiable way to select a non-compliant location would be if it were more in compliance with the ADA than any other building without regard to a charter issue.
The Town is at risk. In simple terms the word from the U. S. Department of Justice is that if a building is more compliant and provides better and/or greater access it must be used, “a local charter does not trump the ADA”. A simple call to the U. S. Department of Justice ADA information line at 1-800-0301 is the source of that information.
That simple phone call confirms the warning given to the Town Council prior to the vote. Now at least one citizen has already obtained a complaint form which may soon be filed with the U. S. Department of Justice and the Town may soon find the Civil Rights Division of the U. S. Department of Justice knocking on their door. It is a matter that could become costly for the Town of Coventry and could have easily been avoided.
While Council member Hall voiced concern and wanted to investigate the use of an auction hall for a polling location he joined Democrats Mr. Vinkles, Ms. Thomas, and Chairman Woolf in voting in favor of using the non-compliant building. The other members of the Council Ms. Blanchard and Mr. Williams voted against the use of that location.
The building in question is owned by a church but this is not a matter of church and state, this is not political, this is not a matter of the inconvenience of driving out of district that is a drop in the bucket. It is all about the disabled citizens and the way we treat them. They are not a very vocal group; most just want to be treated like the rest of us. Their disabilities are not by choice but the way we treat them and the consideration we show is.
Society has come a long way with providing services for the disabled. Our schools recognize the needs with special education services and yet our Town Council turns a blind eye and deaf ear to the very regulations put in place to protect those most in need. It is not too late for them to reconsider their vote and to protect our disabled citizens and to be in compliance with the ADA. It would be the right thing to do.