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Barriers remain for Canadian voters who are disabled: advocates

Last Updated Sep 8, 2021 at 12:00 pm MDT

(Source: iStock) (Courtesy iStock)
Summary

Years after the federal government guaranteed accessible voting for disabled voters, casting ballot is still problematic

One organization says parties should put more effort in making their messaging more accessible

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Get out and vote! That’s the message we’ll be hearing until election day, but voting is more difficult for some people.

People with disabilities have long pointed out the barriers they face when they try to cast a ballot. The Accessible Canada Act was passed two years ago, before the last election, but barriers remain.

Paul Gilbert is with the BC Disability Caucus and points out not all polling stations are created equal.

“Locations aren’t necessarily always accessible. Elections Canada identified a whole bunch of places that were not accessible. They were not up to code. For example, some wheelchair ramps were at a 45-degree angle, and nobody can climb that.”

Gilbert is visually impaired and says it was awkward going to his polling station last election.

“I was trying to figure out what one of the lineups was for, so I went up and asked. You end up doing some faux-pas if you are visually impaired.”

There are alternate ways of voting, but he points out there are problems there too, especially for the visually impaired.

“We can do mail-in ballots, but you have to get someone to help you, and sometimes that’s a problem.” He says the sighted assistant may try to take advantage of the situation and influence the disabled voter.

It’s a scenario that also concerns the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. It says having to get a sighted person to go over the mail-in ballot, to make sure the ballot conforms to Election Canada guidelines, robs the visually impaired person of the right to vote in secret.

The organization also says it’s heard of blind voters having problems uploading the necessary scanned identification documents for the mail-in ballots – which again required assistance from a sighted person.

“We have been hearing that the mail-in ballot process is not one that can be negotiated independently by all blind voters,” states Heather Walkus, a member of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, in a news release.

“As this election follows the passage of the Accessible Canada Act, which promised no new barriers, this is all very disappointing. Blind voters were expecting to finally exercise their franchise in secret this election the same as other voters,” she goes on to say.

The council says political parties themselves have to pay more attention to how to deliver their messages to the disabled community. It would like literature on candidates available in alternate media, and American Sign Language used at campaign events.

Gilbert says he’s noticed more platforms that include the needs of the disabled, but he wishes the parties would consult more with them, before forming those policies.

“The problem is they are still not involving us before the election, so their policies are not as good as they could be. The disabled have been basically excluded from the political process.”

He says Canada has a long ways to go in getting more disabled people elected. He says because people with disabilities are marginalized to begin with, it’s extra difficult for them to launch successful careers in politics.