By Staff Torstar News Service
Frank Pozen is concerned about the width of the elevator at his voting station, the Eighth St. Legion.
Frank Pozen speeds around pretty good in his electric wheelchair since losing the use of his legs in an accident almost 10 years ago.
His polling station at the Eighth St. Legion hall, however, is a problem.
Elections Ontario lists the location as accessible. But the 60-year-old Etobicoke-Lakeshore voter says the elevator to the second-floor banquet hall, where ballots will be cast June 12, is too small to accommodate his power chair and many other scooters and electric wheelchairs.
The elevator door is only 33 inches wide, and under Ontarios Building Code for new construction, the accessibility standard is 36 inches. Although Pozens chair can fit through the narrow opening, the elevators 47-inch depth leaves him barely five inches of clearance.
Pozen raised the issue with the returning officer during last summers byelection and complained to Elections Ontario last week.
I tried (the elevator) once a few years ago . . . I could barely, barely fit in. I wont do it again. Its not safe, he said.
They are well aware that it is not adequate. I dont know why they keep putting (the polling station) here, he added.
Elections Ontario is aware of the problem, a spokesman said. But the snap election call didnt give officials enough time to find a reasonable alternative, Andrew Willis said in an email to the Star.
In instances where a location has qualified for exemption to the standard, it is because there was no available alternative in the district at the time we need it, he said. For this reason, we have a range of accessible voting tools and processes, to help ensure that all eligible electors are able to cast their vote privately and securely.
In an email to Pozen, an unnamed Elections Ontario official said an accessibility information assistant will be posted at the elevator to assist voters. If required, the deputy returning officer can bring the ballot box to the main floor to allow an elector to cast his or her vote, the official added.
Pozen is not impressed. People who are in my position disabled people we dont like that. Its embarrassing, he said.
Elections Ontario has made great strides to make voting more accessible, noted Steven Chrisianson, of March of Dimes Canada.
But then they do something like this, he said. You can call it an inaccessible polling station or you can call it inadvertent exclusion.
One way to fix this problem would be to allow telephone and Internet voting, said David Lepofsky, of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) Alliance. But a provincial report on the issue last June said more study is needed.
No accessibility requirements for elections have been enacted under the AODA, he said. Voters with disabilities deserve better.
At the Legion on Tuesday, where Pozen demonstrated the elevators tight fit, longtime manager Kay McDonald wondered what all the fuss is about. Over the years, provincial, federal and municipal elections have all used the Legion as a polling station, she noted.
Its accessible. Our veterans in wheelchairs and scooters use that elevator all the time with no problem, she said.
The elevator may be acceptable for the Legion, Pozen said. But for voting, its inadequate, especially for the newer, larger scooters and electric wheelchairs for paraplegics, he said.
Im not concerned about myself. I’ll go to the advance poll, he said. But what about the quadriplegic who reads that the poll is accessible and arrives only to discover they cant vote like everyone else?