Letter to Chief Election Officer
May 25, 1999
Warren R. Baillie
Chief Election Officer
51 Rolark Drive
Scarborough, Ont. M1R 3B1
Dear Mr. Baillie,
On April 6, 1999 we wrote to you requesting that you take whatever action was necessary to ensure that there are no barriers to impede people with disabilities from fully participating in this election. In that letter we pointed out that there are at least one and a half million people with disabilities, most of whom are of voting age. We have not received a response to that letter, although we did see comments you made on some of our concerns reported in the media.
In the last election, Mike Harris promised that, if elected, he would pass an Ontarians with Disabilities Act in his first term. This did not happen and as a consequence people are continuing to face barriers in Ontario, including the election process.
Since the election was called people with disabilities are reporting to us about barriers they are encountering when they try to participate in the electoral process. We would like to bring to your attention some examples of those that are within your jurisdiction and ask that you take steps immediately to eliminate them and to address those matters addressed in our April 6 letter which have not yet been dealt with.
Elections Ontario television advertisements about the voter's list. As you know, there are serious problems with the accuracy of the voter's list. The television ad that you are running asks people to call or contact Elections Ontario if they have questions. This ad is not accessible to people who are vision- impaired or who otherwise cannot read print. The ad asks people to phone a number or go to a web site, but the actual phone number and web site are simply flashed on the screen, not read aloud. It would have been easy to incorporate the voice over into the ad. Many people who are vision impaired or who otherwise cannot read print use television as a way of getting news, information and entertainment. All Ontarians should be able to benefit from advertisements run by Elections Ontario, paid for by taxpayer dollars.
Advertising the location of advance polls. We have been told that newspaper advertisements are used to tell people where and when advance polls will be held. This information is not available in any easily obtainable alternative format, creating a barrier for people who are vision impaired or otherwise cannot read print. There have been difficulties with directions to the polling location and with polling stations not chosen for ease of access to public transportation.
Ballots. We have received complaints about the ballots used. Firstly, there are no large-print ballots available to people who are vision impaired. One of our members was told that the ballots were using 16 pt type which is larger than usual. However, this is not sufficient for many people with low vision.
Secondly, one voter has contacted us about a problem using the template to vote. He reported that he asked to use the template, despite being discouraged from doing so. When he did use it, he found that it was difficult to use, unlike the federal templates, and that the poll officials were unable to give proper instructions on how to fold the ballot.
Telephone access for deaf, deafened and hard-of-hearing persons to the Returning Offices. We did a survey of Returning Offices in Toronto. Not one of them had a TTY phone to allow people who are deaf, deafened or hard-of-hearing to call the Returning Office for information about the election. Again, given the serious problems with the voter's list, the new rules and new ridings, it is critical that information be made available to everyone. The lack of a TTY phone means that people who are deaf, deafened or hard-of-hearing face barriers in finding out whether they are on the voter's list, where to vote and when to vote.
Sign interpreters for people who are deaf. We have been informed that voters who are deaf were told that if they required sign language interpreter services they would be required to hire and pay for their own interpreter service. This is of particular concern in view of the difficulties with the voter's list which increases the need for extended conversations with voting officials before a person is able to vote.
It is disturbing to us that people with disabilities have already faced barriers when they have tried to get information about voting or actually tried to vote in the advance polls. With only 9 days left in the election period it is imperative that you act immediately to ensure that people with disabilities are given access to the same information as all other voters and that voting procedures are modified where necessary to ensure that they are fully accessible to people with disabilities.
In an election in which people with disabilities are making choices about the candidates they will vote for on the basis of their commitment to barrier-removal, it is cruelly ironic that those same barriers may keep them from exercising their democratic rights.
Could you please let us know as soon as possible what changes you are making to ensure this is a barrier-free election.
cc: Mike Harris, MPP
Dalton McGuinty, MPP
Howard Hampton, MPP
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