12 Apr 2010
It is widely recognized that disabled Ontarians are poorly served when attempting to cast an election ballot. Barriers haven’t yet been eliminated at many
polling places, some of which feature multiple steps or doorways too narrow to accommodate a scooter.
As recently as the Toronto Centre by-election two months ago, one determined voter had to leave his wheelchair and grapple, with help, down a stairway to
cast his ballot. Others struggled, too, to reach the ballot box at St. Joseph’s College School. It’s not known how many simply turned away.
This is frankly inexcusable.
Unfortunately, in Bill 231, a series of amendments to the Election Act now before the Legislature, the government ducks the accessibility issue. While stopping short of making it mandatory, the bill allows for possible deployment of “accessible voting equipment.” However, the bill specifies that such gear must not be connected to any electronic network and must generate a paper ballot – features that seem to rule out alternatives such as voting by telephone,
the same way that many people now do their banking.
Advocates for the disabled are understandably unimpressed. “We deserve better,” says lawyer David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with
Disabilities Act Alliance.
There are simple measures that could be taken, especially with a fixed election date. These include earlier determination of polling places so that disabled
advocates may examine them to ensure that they are accessible.
Elections Ontario officials say they are trying to do better by giving field staff a more detailed guide for use in selecting voting locations. But that’s
hardly enough, given the extent of past failures.
Lawyering up, the officials note that the law does not actually require accessibility for the disabled across the province until 2025. But the disabled
shouldn’t have to wait that long to exercise their democratic rights. Accessible voting places should be written into the law now.