Letter To Warran R. Baillie
Chief Election Officer
April 6, 1999
April 6, 1999
Warran R. Baillie
Chief Election Officer
51 Rolark Drive
Scarborough, Ont. M1R 3B1
Dear Mr. Baillie,
I am writing on behalf of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee. The Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee is a non-partisan group of persons with disabilities, friends, family members and organizations that came together to work towards creating a barrier-free Ontario for people with disabilities through the enactment of a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
Ontario has at least one and a half million people with disabilities. Most are of voting age. They face serious and substantial barriers when they attempt to participate in life's daily activities. It is for that reason that we have been working for over four years to try to get a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act passed in this province, to remove the barriers we now face, and to prevent new barriers from being created. The democratic electoral process is but one vital area of life where we have faced too many barriers in the past.
We are writing to ask for your commitment to ensure that you and your officials across Ontario will do whatever they can to remove the barriers that might impede voters with disabilities from participating in the election, and to ensure that new barriers are not now created.
We are aware of the provisions of the Election Act which make specific reference to the accommodation of persons with disabilities. While these may help somewhat in working towards a barrier-free election, they are not sufficient. There are important steps that you can take to ensure that as many barriers as possible are removed. We provide some examples of barriers here, but do not offer this as a comprehensive catelouge. We urge you and your officials to learn about the many kinds of barriers which persons with disabilities face, and to seek out those barriers that can arise in the electoral process. The following is a helpful start, but it is only that. We are asking that you take the following steps:
We understand that a decision has not yet been made on whether there Ontario will use enumerators in the next election or rely on the Permanent Voters list. If an enumeration is held, please make sure that the officials conducting it are trained to ensure that the process of collecting information is barrier-free. If the permanent voters' list is used, please make sure that the process for finding out if one is on the voters' list, or for getting added to it, is barrier-free. This is especially important since we have heard that the so-called permanent voters' list may have errors and jproblems with it, including being incomplete and inaccurate.
As some examples of steps you should take in this context, ccould you please provide us and voters with disabilities generally with information as soon as possible about what steps people can take to ensure that they are on this list or to get themselves added to the list. Of course, it is important to get this information to the wider population with disabilities in formats that are accessible to them. As we are a voluntary group without any source of funding, we cannot offer to do this for you.
The new legislation no longer requires the public posting of the voters list so people are required to go to the Returning Office or the municipal clerk to find out if they are on the list. For some people with disabilities it may be difficult for them to get to these locations. Could you please ensure that this information is available by telephone and TTY to people who can sufficiently identify themselves and that the process of looking into this is entirely barrier-free.
Can you also please ensure that the identification guidelines that you will be developing for voters who want to be added to the voters list on the day of the election take into account the needs of people with disabilities. For example, many voters with disabilities do not have driver's licences or passports, the most common form of photo ID used. Please ensure that alternate forms of identification can be used.
In order that voters with disabilities may be fully informed about how to vote, where to vote and what process to follow to get added to the voters list, could you please ensure that this type of information, including the forms for proxy voting and getting added to the voter lists are widely available in alternative format such as braille, large type, audio cassette and electronic format. The fact that this information is availble should be publicized widely. Any web sites established to disseminate information to the public should be designed to be fully accessible to persons with a wide range of disabilities. There is a great deal of information available on the Internet on this subject that would be of help to you.
Information by phone:
We were pleased to see that your office does have a TTY. Could you please ensure that all local returning offices and all other official election sites also have TTY equipment so that people who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing can contact their local returning officer or other offices in this way for information. The fact that this service is available should be widely publicized.
This may be of assistance to a number of people with disabilities, particularly those in small retirement homes, hospitals and others who are too ill to travel. However, it is important that they learn about this option. We are requesting that information about proxy voting be made widely available in alternative formats and that it be widely distributed to the public, including for example to health centres, seniors centres and other locations where individuals with disabilities, family members and friends are likely to get them. Local organizations of persons with disabilities may be able to assist with the distribution of this information and to provide you with assistance on appropriate formats and language so the information is accessible, although they should not be expected to bear the costs of the distribution of this information.
The legislation gives the returning officers the right to review proxy votes to determine if the reason for the proxy being given is acceptable. We urge that returning officers be given instructions to take into account the many barriers faced by people with disabilities that may prevent them from attending to vote themselves. These may go beyond being too ill to travel and include things such as the lack of accessible, appropriate transportation.
The Elections Act requires that a polling place shall "insofar as is reasonably possible give access to wheelchairs" (s. 13(3)). We are asking that before choosing a site it be carefully reviewed, preferably in consultation with persons with disabilities or organizations with knowledge of accessibility, to ensure that they are fully accessible to all persons with disabilities. Not only should the doors be wide enough and ramps be available, but there must be full accessibility e.g. parking for people with handicap permits; the doors must be easily opened and closed; there should be sufficient space for a person using a wheelchair to vote privately in the voting booth, using a table that is at an appropriate level. You should not assume that just because a facility has a ramp, the ramp is necessarily sufficient. REgrettably, some ramps are so steep that they are difficult for persons using wheel chairs to access.
In addition to access for persons using wheelchairs, please keep in mind the types of accommodations required by persons with other types of disabilities. This may include, for example, people with learning disabilities who may require bold, clear signs to help direct them to the proper place and adequate lighting for persons with low vision. We urge you to consult widely with organizations representing people with a wide range of disabilities to ensure that all who want to will be able to vote.
Ballots and the ballot marking process should be easy and barrier-free. Ballot should be printed in large type for persons with low vision. Braille overlays should be available for visually impaired persons who use Braille. The marking area on the ballot should not be so small, nor the marking process be required to be so pinpoint accurate and precise, that it will be difficult or impossible for a person with a vision impairment or motor limitation to mark their own ballot without fear that they have inadvertantly spoiled the ballot. The "notched ballot" at times used in Ontario is viewed by some with vision disabilities to be insufficient. Where a voter requires another to mark their ballot for them and an oath is required for this to occur, please allow this to take place in a private area so people are not required to publically disclose the reason they cannot vote without assistance.
Sign Language Interpreters:
While the Election Act is clear that people who are deaf may have a sign language interpreter present at the poll to assist them, we are very concerned that it also allows them to be refused a ballot "for the time being" if an interpreter is not available. We would like your assurances that interpreters will be available for all deaf voters and that no one will lose their right to vote because an interpreter is not available. You may wish to speak to the Ontario Association of the Deaf and the Canadian Hearing Society about the necessary arrangements to ensure that voters who are deaf can fully participate on a footting of equality.
Broadcast Announcements by Your Office;
If you use television to broadcast adveristements of information regarding the electoral process, please make sure that the advertisements are presented in a manner which is fully accessible to all persons with disabilities. For example, please make sure that the advertisements are closed captioned. As well, to assist persons who are vision impaired or otherwise cannot read print, make sure that any text appearing on the screen is also read aloud during the advertisement.
We appreciate that these and other necessary steps for achieving a barrier-free democratic election will present you and your officials with some challenges, but we are confident that with enough advanced planning, Ontario can achieve a barrier-free election. The examples of barriers covered in this letter are neither new nor unforeseeable. We will be urging our members to contact their local Chief Returning Officers or your office prior to the election to follow up on these and other barriers that may arise. We understand that it does take time to make arrangements and hope that by alerting you to our concerns you can help to make this the most accessible election in Ontario history. Again, we must emphasize that this letter's example is not intended as a complete and exhaustive catelogue of issues that must be addressed.
cc: Premier Mike Harris
The Hon. Isabel Bassett,
Dalton McGuinty, MPP
Howard Hampton, MPP
Gilles Morin, MPP
Dwight Duncan, MPP
Frances Lankin, MPP
Marion Boyd, MPP
| Return to Correspondence Page | Index Page | Action Kit |