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Voter Access Improved: city News

September 3, 2010

Pauline Baker has always found it hard to vote for St. Catharines politicians.

No, she’s not particularly cynical about local politics.

The 68-year-old, who has multiple sclerosis and needs a scooter to get around, just has trouble getting into her local polling station.

“It’s not very accessible and it has been bugging me forever,” said Baker, who was left fuming outside a locked door at Prince Philip School during a previous election.

A wheelchair ramp led to the school’s side entrance, but safety rules prevented that door from being left open, even on election day. (A passing teacher
eventually let Baker in.)

“I know people (at the city) talk about accessibility, and that’s good, but things don’t seem to change in a hurry,” Baker said.

They’ve changed for this election, said city election coordinator Karen Ellison.

She said she and city accessibility co-ordinator Diana Lecinski toured the city’s polling stations a few months ago to see if they were up to scratch.

Ellison said they looked at issues like disabled parking, space for wheelchairs and scooters, accessible entry and exit options and even city transit routes.

City staff also met with members of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Accessibility looking for feedback, Lecinski added.

As a result, improvements were made at some locations and one polling station was changed: Prince Phillip School. That polling station will now be moved to the Port Weller Community Centre.

“At this stage, we feel anyone will be able to go to their local polling station and have basic accessibility needs met,” Lecinski said. “Are we perfect?
No, we’re still dealing with older buildings … but we’re getting there.”

Lecinski urges residents with concerns to consider four advance polling locations, which “go above and beyond” the city’s minimum accessibility standards.

For example, they’ll have an “accessible voting tabulator,” a machine with special features designed for the blind and deaf, as well as quadriplegic residents.

Typically, the advance polling buildings are also larger, with more space to manoeuvre wheelchairs and scooters, she added.

The advance polling stations include the SeymourHannah Sports and Entertainment Centre on Oct. 13, the central library Oct. 16, the CAW Hall Oct. 18 and the Grantham Optimist Club Oct. 19.

Baker said she’ll probably play it safe and vote at an advance polling station. But she called the latest changes “hopeful.”

“That’s a move in the right direction,” she said. “Inclusion is the secret ingredient here. The bottom line is, if I’m in my wheelchair and I can’t access
a municipal voting booth the same way (other voters can), then I’m not included. An inclusion is so important.”

Article ID# 2742161

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