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Accessibility Action Plan for the 2011 Provincial General Election

April 6, 2011

It is with great pleasure that I present my Accessibility Action Plan for the 2011 Provincial General Election.

Since the 2007 general election, Ontario has made great progress in its understanding and approach to accessibility. Historically, accessibility indicated the accommodation of exceptions, where concern was directed to individual cases. Now, accessibility means inclusiveness, where all visible and invisible disabilities are automatically accounted for. This shifting awareness towards accessibility is due to the large segment of our population which is aging and to the fact that 1 out of 7 Ontarians currently have some form of disability.

As we approach the 2011 Provincial General Election, Elections Ontario is making sure that we implement the many changes made to the Election Act in May 2010 when Bill 231, the Election Statute Law Amendment Act, 2010 was enacted.

This report outlines how Elections Ontario will work to remove barriers that may prevent people from voting and make the electoral process as easy and convenient as possible. It provides details on how we will be implementing some of our new authority to introduce services such as Special ballots, including home visits, and mobile voting locations.

Elections Ontario is committed to continuous improvements in how elections are delivered. Our plan anticipates a multi-year process with a number of forward looking initiatives that are aimed at evaluating and improving the election process. These are described in greater detail in our Action Plan.

I believe that our Plan will lay the foundation to allow all eligible electors to easily participate in the democratic process.

Yours sincerely,

Greg Essensa
Chief Electoral Officer

1. Background

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees citizens the right to vote and to run for office and provides a guarantee of equality rights to persons with disabilities. The Ontario Human Rights Code provides that individuals have the right to equal treatment with respect to services and facilities. Elections Ontario is required under the Human Rights Code and the Charter to deliver elections to Ontario voters in a manner that does not discriminate.

In addition, standards under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA) are being implemented in order to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities by 2025. The first standard, the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service, required public sector agencies to have in place a Customer Service Policy by January 1, 2010. Elections Ontario’s Customer Service Policy can be accessed online: http://www.elections.on.ca/.

2. Context: What does Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Mean for Elections?

In 2006, 15% of Ontarians self-identified as having a disability according to Statistics Canada; an increase from 13.5% in 2001. As the population in Canada ages, these rates are expected to increase due to age-related disabilities (in 2006, the rate of disability for 15 to 24 year olds was 5.3% compared to a 47.2% for individuals aged 65 years and above).
The Statistics Canada estimate may under-represent the extent of disabilities in Canada. In the Canadian Community Health Survey, people were asked about whether they have any difficulty hearing, seeing, communicating, walking, climbing stairs, bending, learning or doing any similar activities. In addition, they were asked whether they have a physical, mental or health condition that reduces the amount or kind of activity that they can do at home, work, school or other activities; 31.3% of the population reported having experienced these difficulties.
Accessibility is the degree to which individuals with a disability may encounter barriers in living their lives, participating in their communities or in exercising their right to vote.
There are many kinds of disabilities, including: vision, hearing, physical, intellectual, developmental, learning, mental health, speech or language. Disabilities can be visible, hidden, permanent, or occur only at certain times.
A disability can occur to any one at any time. Some people are born with a disability. For others, the disability happens because of an illness, accident or aging.
People with disabilities often do not engage in many of the activities that most of us take for granted because there are barriers that stop them. The following are examples of barriers that could potentially affect a person with a disability during an election:
Architectural and physical barriers are features of buildings or spaces that cause problems for people with disabilities. Examples would be:
· Poor lighting in the poll.
· Hallways and doorways to the voting location that are too narrow.
Information or communications barriers arise when a person cannot easily understand information. An example would be:
· Posters in the poll explaining the steps in the voting process are not clear or easily understood.
Attitudinal barriers are those assumptions and actions that discriminate against people with disabilities. An example would be:
· A poll official who assumes that a person with a communication disorder cannot understand them.
Technology barriers occur when a technology is not designed to support various assistive devices. An example would be:
· An election website that does not support screen-reading software.
Organizational barriers are an organization’s policies, practices or procedures that discriminate against people with disabilities. An example would be:
· A returning office that could not provide the tools and support to accommodate a person with a vision disability who would like to work as an election official.

3. Accessibility Principles and Elections

The accessibility of the electoral process is critical to ensure that all voters are able to participate fully and can exercise their democratic right to vote.

Elections Ontario has adopted the principles outlined in the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service under the AODA as part of our vision for setting benchmarks in electoral process excellence.

Those principles are:

  • respect for the dignity of persons with disabilities;
  • respect for the independence of persons with disabilities;
  • goods and services that are integrated for persons with disabilities unless an alternate measure is necessary (either temporarily or on a permanent basis); and
  • equality in the ability to obtain, use and benefit from goods and services given to others.

This plan is intended to ensure that the electoral process is accessible and administered fairly, efficiently and in a transparent manner so that:

  • Ontarians with disabilities are aware of the services provided by Elections Ontario and receive quality service;
  • Ontarians with disabilities can participate in the electoral process both to exercise their right to vote and to have access to opportunities to participate as candidates in the election;
  • Elections Ontario staff are knowledgeable of the needs of elector groups and integrate accessible services best practices into the delivery of the election;
  • Elections Ontario has a demonstrated accessible work environment.

4. Accessible Election Services

Elections Ontario has a long held commitment to improving the accessibility of the electoral process. Since the 1970’s, our agency has pioneered important administrative initiatives to help Ontarians exercise their right to vote. In recent years, we introduced closed-captioning and descriptive video for election commercials, magnifying devices and Braille templates at every voting location, and provided large print materials and pictographic and “plain language” instructions for electors. In addition, we have piloted accessible voting equipment in by-election advance voting locations.

In Elections Ontario’s post-event report and in its appearances before the Standing Committee of the Legislative Assembly, the Chief Electoral Officer identified initiatives that would enhance barrier-free access to elections and has asked legislators to grant the authority to make some of these a reality.

As Elections Ontario prepared for the 2011 general election, the Election Statute Law Amendment Act, 2010 received Royal Assent on May 18, 2010. These amendments gave the Chief Electoral Officer a number of the specific tools that he had requested to make all aspects of the electoral process truly accessible. Also, as a result of amendments made to the Bill as it progressed through the Standing Committee hearings, additional responsibilities were assigned to the Chief Electoral Officer to enhance the accessibility of elections.

In addition to the amendments to the Election Act, the October 2011 general election will be the first to be delivered under the Elections Ontario Accessible Customer Service Policy and Procedures developed in accordance with the AODA’s Accessibility Standards for Customer Service.

Elections Ontario will be deploying the following services during the 2011 general election:

  • Accessible Voting and Vote-Counting Equipment – This equipment will be available in every returning office and satellite office for the 15 days before election day, so that electors with disabilities will be able to independently vote and verify their ballot. The equipment can process hand-marked paper ballots in addition to ballots marked by electors via an integrated ballot marking device that has audio and tactile interfaces.
  • Alternative Formats – General information on the election and voting process from Elections Ontario is provided in a range of formats to ensure all voters understand where, when and how to vote. Formats include print, large print, audio file, Braille and dxb (Druxbury drawing exchange binary) and brf (Braille) electronic files.
  • Assistive Devices at Voting Locations – Assistive devices are provided at voting locations to assist voters in voting with independence and in secrecy. Devices include magnifiers, ballot templates (has raised numbers and cut-outs to assist voters with vision loss), pad and paper (for communicating with voters with hearing loss), and easy-grip pencils for individuals that may have a manual dexterity disability.
  • Audio Version of Householder – This audio recording of Elections Ontario’s Householder (a brochure that outlines election dates and details including when and how to vote) can be accessed through cable, satellite or the internet by individuals providing them with independent access to current information about the election and voting process.
  • Ballot Font Size – The candidate’s given name appears on the ballot in 18 point font, the candidate’s surname appears in 24 point, and the political party name or candidate’s status as independent appears in 14 point font.
  • Certificate to Vote – Transfers – Up to and including the day before election day, a voter with restricted mobility or other disability who could vote more conveniently at another voting location, can apply at a returning office to have their name included in the Polling Day List of Electors for that alternative voting location. The voter will be provided with a Certificate to Vote that must be presented to the Deputy Returning Officer at the alternative location in addition to proof of identity in order to vote.
  • Closed Caption Advertising – Closed captioning will be provided on television advertising. This service displays text on a television screen to provide additional or interpretive information to viewers. The term “closed” in closed captioning indicates that not all viewers see the captions – only those who choose to activate them. Captions aim to describe all significant audio content—spoken dialogue and non-speech information such as the identity of speakers and, occasionally, their manner of speaking—along with music or sound effects using words or symbols.
  • Customer Service Training – A key challenge for Elections Ontario is the delivery of effective training for the approximately 75,000 temporary election workers who join Elections Ontario for a short period of time to deliver an election. Elections Ontario is developing training for front-line personnel, including poll officials, to ensure effective responsiveness to voters with disabilities.
    In addition to in-person training, a training video is being developed for poll officials and returning office staff that will incorporate information on ways to better serve voters with disabilities. Staff must answer a series of 8 questions from their manuals as they proceed through the video-training. At the end of individual training, they will sign a certificate confirming that they have taken the training and are certified. Returning office staff and poll officials cannot be hired until the training has been completed. This video is in addition to the in-person training that is provided to poll officials Manuals for poll officials and poll kits will include instructions on how to assist voters with disabilities and will emphasize that the Deputy Returning Officer’s role includes providing assistance to a voter with a disability at the voting location, if required.
  • Descriptive Video – Descriptive Video is a narrative track of visual media for a person with visual impairments viewers of visual media. It provides a voice-over description of a program’s key visual elements with narration that is inserted during natural pauses in program dialogue. The descriptive narrator talks through the presentation, describing what is happening on the screen during the natural pauses in the audio. In general, DVS describes actions that are not otherwise reflected in the dialogue, such as the movement of a person in a scene.
  • Feedback Process – If a voter wants to provide either general feedback to Elections Ontario or specific feedback on a particular situation, each voting location, returning office and satellite office will have feedback forms that the voter can complete and put in the feedback box. In addition, the feedback form is available online: http://www.elections.on.ca/.
  • Interpreters -The voter is responsible for booking the services of an American Sign Language interpreter, if required, and Elections Ontario will cover the cost of the service when used at a returning office, satellite office or at the voting locations.
  • Moving the Ballot Box – The ballot box may be moved by the poll officials to facilitate voting by an elderly person or a person with a disability.
  • Notices of Disruption – Temporary disruptions in services at voting locations may interfere with the ability of voters to cast their ballots and could include unscheduled or scheduled maintenance, repairs, construction, etc. When a temporary disruption occurs, Elections Ontario will provide notice to the public including the following information: the nature of the service that is not available; the reason for the temporary disruption, such as repairs, weather, etc.; the expected length of the temporary disruption; and an alternate means for accessing the service, if available. Notices will be posted online and signage will be put up at the affected location.
  • Notice of Registration Card (NRC) – An NRC is sent to each othe electors in the Permanent Register of Electors. In addition to other election-related information such as the date and time of the election, the NRC informs electors of the accessibility of the advance poll and election day voting locations. For voting locations that require more detailed information, the voter is directed to the public call centre
  • Plain Language Communications – All communication materials, such as advertising and for public education, will be drafted in plain language so that it is accessible to all Ontarians.
  • Public Education and Information Program: Outreach – One year in advance of the general election, Elections Ontario launched an ‘In Your Community’ proactive and province-wide outreach program. Focused on building long-term relationships with various support groups and communities throughout Ontario, the outreach program is designed to raise election awareness, enhance communication with stakeholder groups and reach out to voters with information to remove any barriers to participation in the electoral process.
  • Radio Advertising – Advertising of election information broadcast on radio in an audio format is independently accessible to individuals.
  • Service Animals – Elections Ontario welcomes service animals that are providing assistance to voters with disabilities. A voter with a disability is permitted to keep their service animal with them while in Elections Ontario premises, including voting locations, and while accessing election services or voting, unless excluded by law.
  • Special Ballot: Vote by Mail – An elector may apply in person or by mail, courier, email or fax for a special ballot and can then vote with the special ballot via mail or in person at the returning office or satellite office in their electoral district.
  • Special Ballot: Home Visits – A voter can request the assistance of a Special Ballot Officer to complete an application form and to cast a write-in Special ballot at any place in the electoral district that the voter requests, provided that the voter: finds it impossible or unreasonably difficult to personally go to the returning office, and needs assistance with making an application to vote by Special ballot, because of a disability or because he or she is unable to read or write.
  • TTY – This audio service enables people with hearing loss to access information by telephone. During regular business hours, TTY is available at Elections Ontario headquarters. TTY will also be available through Elections Ontario’s public call centre during the election period.
  • Voting Assistance from a Friend or Support Person – A voter who requires the assistance of another individual in order to vote may be accompanied by a “friend” to the voting screen. The friend may mark the ballot for the voter who requires assistance after fulfilling various requirements under the Act such as making a declaration to maintain the secrecy of the vote.
  • Voting Location Accessibility Standards – In order to assist Returning Officers in assessing and verifying the accessibility of voting locations, Elections Ontario has created a Site Accessibility Standard. This ensures that the definition of what is required under the Election Act for an accessible voting location is transparent, consistently understood, and uniformly defined across all electoral districts. In addition to the Standard, Elections Ontario also developed accessibility inspection training for Returning Officers and their staff in order to support a consistent approach to the implementation of the requirements across the province.
  • Voting Locations in Hospitals and Other Institutions – A voting location must be set up in the locations such as a chronic care facility with twenty or more beds, or a retirement home of fifty beds or more etc. Voters who are on the list of electors and reside at one of these institutions may vote at such a voting location. The Deputy Returning Officer and the poll clerk can take the ballot box to voters at their bedsides to facilitate voting by eligible residents.
  • Website – The 2011 general election site will be built to W3C standards. W3C websites incorporate tools and design elements to ensure accessibility. For example, text alternatives for any non-text content will be provided so that the content can be changed into other forms that people may need, such as large print, Braille, speech, symbols or simpler language. In addition, the website will feature adjustable font size, adjustable contrast, clean design and plain language.

A Catalogue of Services with more detailed descriptions of these and other services will be released prior to the election.

5. Sustaining Commitment to the Integration of Accessibility Principles

Accessibility Program

In 2010, Elections Ontario established a corporate Accessibility Program to provide for the co-ordination of accessibility initiatives pertaining to both election delivery and day-to-day operational requirements so that accessibility considerations would be sustainably integrated into the daily operations and election event-related activities of the organization.

The Chief Operating Officer, who is responsible for the Program, reports to the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) about accessibility issues in the delivery of election events and in day-to-day operations at Elections Ontario.

Accessibility Advisory Committee

Elections Ontario has established an Accessibility Advisory Committee. The Committee advises the CEO on specific initiatives to be undertaken by Elections Ontario to remove barriers in the electoral process and to increase opportunities available to persons with disabilities.
The Committee is advising Elections Ontario on accessibility issues including:

  • Insights into the requirements of people with disabilities with regard to the electoral process.
  • Emerging regulations made under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 and possible implications of those regulations to the electoral process.
  • Options and advice on other accessibility related issues within the organization.
  • The development, implementation and effectiveness of Elections Ontario’s Accessibility Program.
  • Future public consultation on accessibility, including recommendations on the structure and membership of the permanent committee.
    Alternative Voting Technology

The Canadian and global economy have been transformed by rapid changes in technology and the introduction of electronic service channels. There is a growing expectation that electoral agencies will be employing some of these solutions to increase efficiency, reduce costs, and increase the accessibility and participation in the electoral process.
Following the amendments to the Election Act, Elections Ontario began a research program to look at the feasibility of alternative electronic voting and network voting. Elections Ontario will be consulting with its stakeholders throughout the research and testing process. Elections Ontario retained external expertise to help ensure that the study is comprehensive and objective. The results of this analysis and recommendations will determine the scope of any testing to be developed in a by-election in 2012. After any alternative technology is tested, Elections Ontario will report its findings and any recommendations it may have, as required by the Election Act.

6. Accessibility Reporting

Under the Election Act Elections Ontario is required to share information with the public on accessibility issues through formal reporting to the Legislative Assembly including:

  • A report on the use of accessible voting or vote-counting equipment at an election
  • A report by each Returning Officer on the measures he or she took to provide accessibility to voters with disabilities in their electoral district
  • A summary report of all the Returning Officers’ accessibility reports
  • A report on the results of any study conducted to improve the voting process or to facilitate voting by persons with disabilities using research, reports, advisory committees or conferences
  • A report on feedback received under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 including Elections Ontario’s response to the feedback and any steps taken to respond to negative feedback
  • A summary of the measures taken to address barriers to accessibility and other accessibility issues at the election
  • Any recommendations with respect to barriers to accessibility and other accessibility issues that the Chief Electoral Officer considers appropriate
  • A summary of the findings of the post-election survey required under the Election Act to look at barriers encountered by voters
  • A review of alternative electronic voting technology and by-election pilot results required to be submitted by June 30, 2013

In addition to these reporting requirements, the Chief Electoral Officer must also submit an annual report under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005.

These reports are available, upon request, in alternative formats.

7. Post-2011 Election Sustainability

Following the general election, Elections Ontario will evaluate the accessibility of the election services provided and determine areas for future improvements.

In addition, Elections Ontario is committed to the ongoing integration of accessibility into election policies, processes and procedures and to ensuring continuous improvements that remove barriers.

The structure of the inaugural Accessibility Advisory Committee will be supported until March 31, 2012, when it will report on its recommendations for the best structure and membership model to carry the Committee forward as a permanent body.

The structure and performance of the Accessibility Program will also be evaluated to determine best practices and any potential areas for improvement or further development.

Integrated Accessibility Standards (IAS) – Accessibility Plan

The government has released its proposed IAS. Elections Ontario would be required to develop a multi-year accessibility plan, including how accessibility would be achieved with respect to requirements and timeframes included in the Integrated Accessibility Regulation. Final Accessibility Plans would be required to be made available to the public, in an accessible format, upon request.

Elections Ontario recognizes the value of planning for increased accessibility and for compliance with the IAS and, as such, is monitoring the developments on the IAS and will revise this accessibility plan as more specific timelines are confirmed.

8. Elections and Accessibility Legislation

Elections and Accessibility Legislation
Accessible voting locations Election Act, section 13.1
Alternative formats Accessibility Standards for Customer Service Election Act, section 114.4
Assistive devices at the voting locations n/a
Audio version of Householder Election Act, section 114.2(1) and 114.4
Ballot font size n/a
Closed caption advertising n/a
Friend to assist in voting Election Act, section 55
Interpreters Election Act, section 21(8) and section 56
Moving the ballot box Election Act, section 46(5)
Notice of Registration Cards (NRC) Election Act, section 114.1(2)
Polls in hospitals and other institutions Election Act, section 14
Public Education and Information Programs Election Act, section 114.1
Support Person to assist in voting Accessibility Standards for Customer Service Election Act, section 55
Radio advertising Election Act, section 114.1(2)
Right to run as a candidate Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, section 3 Election Act, section 26
Right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods and facilities, without discrimination Human Rights Code, section 1 and section 10 (definitions of disability)
Right to equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination on the basis of mental or physical disability Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, section 15
Right to vote Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, section 3
Service Animals Accessibility Standards for Customer Service, O. Reg. 429/07 Accessible Customer Service Policy (Elections Ontario)
Special Ballot: Home Visits Election Act, section 45.4
Special Ballot: Vote by Mail Election Act, sections 45.1 – 45.3; sections 45.5 – 45.12
Transfer Certificate to Vote Election Act, section 24(1.1), section 21(1) and section 21(10)
TTY Election Act, section 114.2(1) and 114.4
W3C website n/a

Reproduced from www.elections.on.ca/NR/…/ActionPlanApril12012.doc