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Political Candidates Shouldn’t Pay for Accessibility: Report

Last Updated: Tuesday, July 20, 2010 | 5:52 PM ET
The Canadian Press

A new report says accessibility costs should not be included towards spending limits for political candidates with disabilities, but at least one former
politician says more is needed to remove barriers.

In a report released Tuesday, the Ontario Human Rights Commission said costs like sign-language interpreting and braille translation should be exempted.

While changes to election laws have improved accessibility for voters in the province, accommodation is lagging behind for candidates, said commissioner Barbara Hall.

“I think we’re seeing progress,” said Hall, explaining that all polling stations are now required to be held in accessible locations.

“But there’s still more to be done to make it really possible for people with disabilities to run as candidates.”

People with disabilities who run for public office in Ontario face higher expenses than their non-disabled rivals, the report found.

“Those would be expenses that one group of candidates would have that another wouldn’t,” Hall said.

“So in order to have an even playing field, I think that those expenses should be exempted from the limit.”

Former Ontario provincial politician Gary Malkowski, who is deaf, said providing exemptions still won’t remove the expensive interpretation costs which
form a barrier for deaf candidates.

When he ran for the provincial legislature in 1990, an exception was made so interpretation services were not included in his spending limit calculations.

But he said in cases where a person with a disability is running for municipal office, or has not yet been nominated by a party, candidates are expected
to bear the financial burden.

“The candidate can’t be responsible to pay for those accommodations on top of the other costs they’ll incur,” Malkowski said.

“It seems to me there’s no way to [run] at the municipal level,” he added, saying he thinks the province should cover costs for candidates who have not
yet been nominated.

Canada’s Minister of State (Democratic Reform) Steven Fletcher, who is in a wheelchair, said he could overcome barriers by using his own accessible car and bringing a portable ramp and other equipment while campaigning.

He would not comment on the Ontario report, but said each candidate will have a different experience depending on existing community infrastructure as well as any personal equipment already owned.

“At the federal level, the costs that are over and above, it would depend on the arrangement that the candidate would have with the federal party,” Fletcher said.

“At a municipal level or provincial level, I think the barriers to campaigning may be systemic to society depending on where you live.”

He said some local radio stations in his riding were not accessible, and he had to find other ways to get his message out to voters.

In her report, Hall added that candidates with disabilities may have other costs, like making campaign offices accessible, and may need to spend money on accommodations to attend meetings and debates.

The report comes just months ahead of October’s province-wide municipal elections.

The commission will be watching the municipal elections and the 2011 provincial campaign closely, Hall said.

© The Canadian Press, 2010

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