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Game Changer in Ontario’s By-elections

By Steven Christianson – National Manager, Government Relations
March of Dimes Canada
July 29, 2013

There’s at least one thing that voters won’t have to ask of the candidates in any of the five by-elections currently underway

across southern Ontario. They won’t have to bother asking “is your campaign accessible for volunteers and voters with

disabilities?”

Why? Because Ontario’s accessibility legislation now requires campaigns to have a policy that welcomes people with

disabilities, training of staff and volunteers (which is as simple as watching a 10-minute orientation video) to ensure

greater awareness and inclusion, and offer some way for people to provide feedback to the candidate or campaign manager on

accessibility issues.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) now requires all organizations in Ontario, provided they have at

least one employee, to meet the legal requirements of the customer service. And campaign offices are no exception.

In fact, these by-elections represent the first time since the law came into effect that campaign offices must comply.

Not that candidates running for office at Queen’s Park should need a law to tell them that accessibility is good and

exclusion is bad, that barriers really do prevent the participation of people with disabilities, and that having an

inaccessible campaign office is pretty much the same as shouting out, “disability not welcome”:

One would think.

Alas, such was not the case as recent as the 2011 Ontario election, where inaccessibility still featured prominently.

And when the doors of access aren’t there, a campaign loses out on the opportunity to include upwards of 18% of Ontario’s

population that lives with a disability. These are potential volunteers to work the phones, to help create literature, to

help the candidate win.

It’s even more perplexing that we actually need a law, when the odds are that each of us has a family member or friend who

has a disability of some sort.

So while some pundits are describing these five by-elections as a “mini election”, a test of voter intentions on the grand

scale, it is a test in another way: to not only see if campaigns are more accessible, but if candidates and campaign staff

are aware of the Canada’s first legislation of its kind, a law that was passed unanimously by MPPs from all parties, and to

see if this new element regulating accessibility in Ontario’s election campaigns will in fact be the game-changer that so

many of us hope it will.