Disabled group pushing for legislation to protect rights
By ANTONELLA ARTUSO Queen’s Park Bureau Chief
Last Updated: April 5, 2010 3:37pm
A provincial byelection polling station was bounced to a non-accessible site by a volleyball game, disability activists say.
Members of the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act Alliance have been trying to find out since February why a Toronto Centre polling station
was moved to a room that could be accessed only by stairs.
As reported by the Toronto Sun, several voters left behind wheelchairs, scooters and walkers to painfully struggle down the steps at St. Joseph’s College
School on Wellesley St. E. near Queen’s Park to cast their ballots.
Elections Ontario has confirmed that a playoff volleyball game forced a last-minute switch from an accessible gym to a basement room, Alliance Chair David Lepofsky said.
”This is our democracy … a volleyball game trumps disabled people being able to vote,” he said.
Lepofsky appeared before the Ontario Legislature’s Standing Committee last week to discuss the February incident and argue for stronger legislation to protect people’s right to vote.
Many disabled voters encounter inaccessible polls throughout the province, he said.
Bill 231, the government’s proposed legislation to modernize elections, should set definite time targets to improve access for the estimated one million
disabled voters, he said
“They face the indignity of possibly being carried down stairs just to be able to vote,” Lepofsky told the committee. “Bill 231 will not fix those barriers
to accessible elections now; they will not ensure accessible elections ever.”
The legislation calls for more research and consultation by Elections Ontario, but Lepofsky said, “How much more research do you need to do to know that people in wheelchairs can’t go down stairs?”
In particular, Lepofsky is concerned that the legislation forbids the use of technology other than expensive accessible voting machines that cost up to
Telephone voting would be cheaper and more convenient for disabled voters but the legislation doesn’t call for it, he said.
“It forbids it,” Lepofsky said.
A source told the Sun the legislation could yet be amended to allow telephone voting.
Premier Dalton McGuinty has expressed an openness to new technologies to improve access to voting provided the process remained secure.
“I just don’t think we’ve evolved as much as we could have when it comes to ensuring that people have access to technology to participate in the democratic process,” McGuinty said. “Every day billions of dollars slosh back and forth in the global economy. That’s money exchanged via technology. So I think that we should be able to do something a little bit more when it comes to exercising our democratic rights.”
Lepofsky said any improvements to election accessibility should apply to municipal elections as well.
Reproduced from http://www.torontosun.com/news/canada/2010/04/05/13472741.html