By antonella artuso
Last Updated: 4th February 2010, 10:32pm
Just a stone’s throw away from Queen’s Park — where legislators passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act just a few years ago — Elections Ontario set up a polling station that could only be accessed by going down a flight of stairs.
Local resident John Wood told the Toronto Sun that he had to abandon his wheelchair and struggle with help down the stairs to cast a ballot in the Toronto Centre byelection Thursday.
‘Able to walk a bit’
“If I hadn’t been able to walk a little bit, I wouldn’t have been able to vote,” Wood said. “It’s totally, completely not wheelchair accessible.”
The polling station was in the lower floor gym of St. Joseph’s College School on Wellesley St. E. near Queen’s Park.
While the school has an elevator, there was no way to enter the voting room without travelling down stairs.
The elevator is accessed across an icy parking lot through two heavy sets of manual doors without automatic opening devices.
A spokesman for Elections Ontario told the Sun that the site is wheelchair accessible with an elevator that leads directly to the voting place.
During a Sun visit to the site Thursday, it was clear that voters could not enter the polling station without going down six stairs.
At that time, an electric wheelchair without an occupant was parked at the top of the stairs.
Shortly after, an elderly and frail gentleman leaning heavily on a walker arrived with his wife to vote.
A political scrutineer scrambled to assist the man up and down the stairs as he clung to the railing, while his wife held his walker.
“Good thing you came along,” the man said. “I don’t think I’d have made it.”
Wood said someone offered to bring his ballot to him but he believes there’s no excuse for the lack of accessibility.
“You’re supposed to put your ballot in the ballot box — you’re not supposed to have a second or third party, a stranger … doing it for you. This is Canada.
We don’t do that sort of thing.”
According to the Elections Ontario website, the public agency was required as of Jan. 1 to comply with new customer accessibility standards and takes seriously its obligation to provide services available to those without disabilities.
Wood said the setup on Wellesley St. W. was “disgraceful.
“I think in 2010, especially when we have someone like (disabled lieutenant governor) David Onley in Queen’s Park, that all voting places should be completely accessible for all handicaps,” he said.