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Full Accessibility of Voting in the October 19, 2015 Federal Canadian Election Remains an Unacceptable Uncertainty for Voters with Disabilities

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities

October 16, 2015

SUMMARY

In the final days leading up to the October 19, 2015 federal election, voters with disabilities still have no assurance from Elections Canada that the vote will be fully accessible to them. This shows all the more why we need a strong and effective Canadians with Disabilities Act.

Below we set out two recent news reports that highlight this issue.

* In his powerful opening essay in the October 11, 2015 CBC Radio program The Sunday Edition, veteran CBC journalist Michael Enright pressed the need for accessibility of the vote for voters with disabilities in Canada.

* In its October 8, 2015 news report, Global News also reported on this issue. That report confirmed that most, but not all polling stations in Canada will meet Elections Canada’s own accessibility guidelines. The report includes:

“Elections Canada Regional Media Advisor Dugauld Maudsley said the agency surveyed 28,000 polling stations across the country in order to make them more accessible.

The survey assessed polling stations for 35 accessibility criteria and came up with 15 mandatory criteria that each voting location had to meet if it were to be approved for the federal election.

“Now those 15 criteria are in place at about 19,000 polling stations across the country, which is the number that we have for this election,” he said.

“About 96 per cent of those polling stations meet the 15 criteria, and if you look at just wheelchair accessibility about 98 per cent of those polling stations meet that criteria.”

Maudsley said that if voters are faced with a specific accessibility issue affecting them, they can go to the Elections Canada website and enter a postal code to find out whether or not their polling station meets the 15 criteria, Maudsley said.

But if the voting location isn’t accessible, voters still have other options.

And if your voting station is inaccessible, you can transfer to another polling station before Oct. 13, vote at any Elections Canada office or request a mail-in ballot to vote from home.”

It is inexcusable that Elections Canada has not ensured that all its polling stations are fully accessible according to its own accessibility rules. We are not in a position to comment on whether those accessibility standards are themselves sufficient.

Elections Canada has had four full years to plan for this election. As well, this has been the longest federal election campaign in recent history. Voters with disabilities didn’t first appear on the map in 2015!

This failure is all the more shocking since, according to the Global News report, Elections Canada faced a federal human rights complaint due to polling station inaccessibility in 2011. We add that before that, back in 2010, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal made a resounding finding against Elections Canada in an earlier case. It ruled that voters with disabilities have a human right to an accessible polling station. To learn more about the 2010 Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling on voting accessibility, visit http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/02122010b.asp

Making this situation worse, Elections Canada has not established a way for voters with vision loss or dyslexia to independently mark their ballot and verify their choice a basic right in a democracy to which the Michael Enright essay refers. In at least 44 Ontario municipalities, voters have the option of internet and/or telephone voting in a municipal election. That provides more accessibility. In Ontario and Toronto, there are a limited number of accessible voting machines available. While insufficient in number, this is better than the situation on the federal scene. While Elections Ontario has not done an effective job of ensuring full accessibility for voters with disabilities, it appears to have done a better job than has Elections Canada.

We urge voters with disabilities who didn’t vote at an advance poll to take active steps now to ensure that you can vote on October 19, 2015:

* Check the Elections Canada website to ensure that you know where to go to vote. You cannot count on the accuracy of information in your Voter Information Card from Elections Canada, hard as that may be to believe in 2015.

* Be prepared for long lines. On Twitter, we have seen reports of elderly and frail voters simply leaving an advance poll because they could not stand in line for a long time. It seems that only some polling stations had seats to accommodate them during the wait, hard as that is to believe in 2015. If you might need a chair for a long wait, you should bring one along, if you can.

* Plan now to book accessible transit, if you need para-transit services to get to the polling station. Plan to arrive as early in the day s as you can, in case you face barriers that need to be addressed when you arrive.

* If you encounter any accessibility barriers when trying to vote, lodge a complaint with Elections Canada and alert your local media.

* Please let us know if you encounter any barriers while trying to vote. Email the AODA Alliance at aodafeedback@gmail.com and we will pass this on to Barrier-Free Canada with whom we are closely aligned.

If you use Twitter, we encourage you to tweet details about any voting barriers you face. Include the term #pollwatch in your tweet.

The non-partisan campaign for a Canadians with Disabilities Act has won endorsements from the Liberal, Green and New Democratic Parties. In the final days of this federal election, efforts continue to try to get similar commitments from the Conservative party and the Bloc Quebecois. The promised Canadians with Disabilities Act will need to address the entirely unacceptable situation of a federal election in Canada that does not assure to all voters with disabilities full voting accessibility. To learn more about this nation-wide campaign, visit the website of Barrier-Free Canada which is spearheading this effort, at http://www.barrierfreecanada.org

You can follow Barrier-Free Canada on Twitter @barrierFreeCa

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MORE DETAILS

CBC Radio The Sunday Edition October 11, 2015

Host Michael Enright’s Opening Essay

Picture yourself in a wheelchair on election day confronted by several steps and no ramp leading down to a polling station in a church basement.

Or imagine you are blind or only partially sighted. How do you independently mark your ballot? And how do you insure that your vote is secret?

In many cases, potential voters with disabilities simply turn away. The hassle is too much on shoulders already burdened by disability.

There are four million disabled men, women and children in Canada. In the next 15 years, that figure is expected to grow to nine million.

Their disabilities can be physical, mental or developmental. And in large part they are an invisible part of the population.

Their predicament is barely mentioned or covered in the current election campaign.

Three parties, the NDP the Green Party and the Liberals have promised that if they form the next government, they will promote and pass a Canadians With Disabilities Act.

The only parties who have not promised such an act are the Bloc Quebecois and the Conservatives. During the 2006 election, Stephen Harper promised a Canadians with Disabilities Act but nothing ever came of it.

The only media coverage of the topic I could find was by The Globe and Mail’s excellent health columnist. Andre Picard. Media in general don’t show much interest in the issue.

Twenty Five years ago, President George Bush the First signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act. To this day, it is the global gold standard for state and local legislation.

In this country, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms makes it illegal to discriminate against people with a physical or mental disability. Reason enough to legislate our own act.

The question is simple: Should Canadians with disabilities have equal access to services provided by the Government of Canada or over which the government has regulatory power. Things like air travel, communications, banking, broadcasting and so on.

The answer would seem inarguable. It is essentially a matter of political will.

In 2002, President George Bush the Second signed the Help America Vote Act which among other things mandated accessible voting; getting into polling places and being allowed to mark a ballot successfully and in secret.

David Lepofsky is a Toronto lawyer. He has been fighting for the cause of accessibility for decades. David is blind; I should point out he is also a friend.

In earlier days, when he went to vote, he had to swear an oath that he was blind. Once a municipal polling clerk made a mistake and wanted him to swear he was illiterate.

Lepofsky’s solution to the voting accessibility problem is simple; voting by telephone or online. We bank online. We buy stuff online. We even pay our taxes online. Why can’t we vote online? Several Ontario communities allow internet voting for municipal elections. They’ve discovered the system not only saves money, it increases voter participation

Democracy is all-inclusive or it isn’t the real thing. And after all, every one of us is either disabled now or will be at some point.

Global News October 8, 2015

Originally posted at http://globalnews.ca/news/2264768/advocate-fights-for-more-accessibility-at-federal-election-polling-stations/ Advocate Fights for More Accessibility at Federal Election Polling Stations

October 8, 2015 By Adam Miller
Global News, October 7, 2015 8:26 pm

As the election approaches, one man is watching closely to what Elections Canada is doing for people with disabilities. After going to the polls in 2011, Matt Wozenilek took Elections Canada to task over human rights issues.

TORONTO Matt Wozenilek almost lost the chance to vote four years ago.

Not because he wasn’t eligible. But because he couldn’t get in the door.

Wozenilek, who uses a wheelchair, went to a Guelph school to vote in the 2011 federal election but couldn’t get into the building: A heavy door blocked his way.

A passerby held the door for him and Wozenilek finally voted. But he decided then and there that he “shouldn’t have to put up with that.”

“I have rights just like everyone else and so I decided to lay a complaint against Elections Canada through the Canadian Human Rights Commission,” he said.

“I felt that it was an issue that it should be accessible.”

He filed a human rights complaint that went to the Human Rights Tribunal in Aug. 2014, which led to a hearing in Guelph with Elections Canada that was settled through mediation.

“I think the key word there is dignity,” he said. “I can’t get in just like anyone else.”

Elections Canada Regional Media Advisor Dugauld Maudsley said the agency surveyed 28,000 polling stations across the country in order to make them more accessible.

The survey assessed polling stations for 35 accessibility criteria and came up with 15 mandatory criteria that each voting location had to meet if it were to be approved for the federal election.

“Now those 15 criteria are in place at about 19,000 polling stations across the country, which is the number that we have for this election,” he said.

“About 96 per cent of those polling stations meet the 15 criteria, and if you look at just wheelchair accessibility about 98 per cent of those polling stations meet that criteria.”

Maudsley said that if voters are faced with a specific accessibility issue affecting them, they can go to the Elections Canada website and enter a postal code to find out whether or not their polling station meets the 15 criteria, Maudsley said.

But if the voting location isn’t accessible, voters still have other options.

And if your voting station is inaccessible, you can transfer to another polling station before Oct. 13, vote at any Elections Canada office or request a mail-in ballot to vote from home.

“I think it’s really good that they’ve done that, but it’s not good enough,” Wozenilek said.

“100 per cent is what is required. If I have the right to go into a polling station in my hometown of Guelph, someone in Winnipeg, someone in St. John’s, anyone across Canada should have that same right.”

Wozenilek is encouraging people with disabilities to speak up if they encounter hurdles at voting locations on Election Day, adding that they can contact him on his website or make an official complaint to get the issue resolved.

“I’m hopeful that other people will use my case as another stepping stone to improve the service that people with disabilities have to have in our country,” he said.

“We need to educate the public, from the young to the old, about how to embrace people with disabilities. And once that gets developed than I think there will be less problems in our society. But we have to start somewhere. I can do one place here, one place there, but it takes everyone to be able to make it work everywhere.”