Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities
More Media Coverage of Accessibility Issues and Voting Barriers Facing Voters with Disabilities – and — Elections Ontario Accepts As Accurate AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky’s Report of Voting Barriers He Faced Last Week
June 6, 2018
Our non-partisan campaign to raise accessibility issues and concerns in the 2018 Ontario election has secured even more great media attention as Voting Day gets close!
* On June 4, 2018, the Canadian Press wire service published an important article by reporter Michelle McQuigge, set out below, that reports on the parties’ platforms on disability issues like accessibility. A number of news organizations picked up this report.
* Today, June 6, 2018, the Canadian Press published another article, also set out below and also by reporter Michelle McQuigge. This article reported on accessibility problems that voters with disabilities have experienced in this election, including by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky.
As well, here’s more news from us on our efforts to get Elections Ontario to ensure that voters with disabilities. On Friday, June 1, 2018, the AODA Alliance issued a news release that reported on serious accessibility barriers that AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky faced when he went to vote that day at his riding’s Returning Office. His right to a secret ballot was violated. His ballot ended up on the floor, face up, so that a polling official could see for whom he voted. This was not due to any action on the part of David Lepofsky. The news release gave details about this incident.
On June 2, 2018, he forwarded a copy of this news release to Ontario’s Chief Electoral Officer, Greg Essensa. As a result, Elections Ontario’s Chief Administrative Officer contacted David Lepofsky by email, and requested a chance to speak on the phone.
On Monday, June 4, 2018, David Lepofsky spoke by phone with Elections Ontario’s Chief Administrative Officer and its accessibility lead. As a result, David Lepofsky sent Elections Ontario an email on June 5, 2018, which confirms a number of key points that they had discussed on the phone. We set that email out below.
In that email, you will see that Elections Ontario did not dispute the accuracy of David Lepofsky’s report of what happened to him. Elections Ontario apologized and recognized the need to improve its offerings to voters with disabilities.
David Lepofsky has also forwarded to Elections Ontario a number of complaints about accessibility problems that other voters with disabilities had sent to the AODA Alliance over the past few days, with the permission of the people who sent us those complaints. Elections Ontario agreed that it would investigate those incidents.
At the end of this Update, we again give you links to key background information on how to raise accessibility issues in this election. At the end of each Update is a button to click if you want to unsubscribe from these Updates.
Canadian Press June 6, 2018
Originally posted at:
Some voters report issues with accessible voting machines in Ontario
Tim Nolan, who is legally blind, and his wife, Kim Nolan, who requires the use of a wheelchair, are photographed together in Hamilton, on Wednesday, June 6, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power)
Michelle McQuigge , The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, June 6, 2018 3:28PM EDT
TORONTO — As Ontario gets set to elect a new government, some disabled voters say accommodations put in place to allow them to cast their ballots independently and privately are not working as intended.
People with visual, mobility and hearing impairments in at least five different ridings said they had issues with Elections Ontario’s accessibility measures at returning offices, where they can vote until 6 p.m. Wednesday.
They say elections workers were helpful and respectful, but not always trained on accessible voting options and sometimes did not offer them or didn’t readily know how to make them available.
In some cases, they also say accessible voting machines designed to help them vote did not work as advertised and they were unable to keep their ballots private.
Elections Ontario is apologizing to anyone who encountered a systemic barrier while voting and urges anyone affected to share their experience so improvements can be made.
Spokeswoman Jessica Pellerin says Elections Ontario has taken steps to improve accessibility since accessible voting machines first became available in 2011, and now also pays for deaf or hard-of-hearing voters to have a sign language interpreter. Home visits can also be arranged for those who cannot get to the polls.
Tim Nolan, who is legally blind, wasn’t aware of the accessible voting machines or offered an opportunity to use them. He said the issues experienced by some disabled voters show they cannot count on the same access to secure, independent voting their able-bodied peers enjoy.
“That’s the gap in the whole democratic system,” he said. “While everybody else who doesn’t have a disability has both the right and privilege, persons with disabilities do not get the privilege.”
Accessible voting machines are located at each returning office, plus 51 satellite offices until the day before the election, but will not be available at polling stations on election day. Elections Ontario says other forms of accommodations will be available at general polling stations, such as paper templates to guide visually impaired voters in casting ballots.
The province’s 175 accessible voting machines use three distinct interfaces.
An audio tactile controller helps visually impaired voters by reading the names of candidates aloud and permitting voters to press buttons to make selections. Voters with mobility limitations can use paddles they manipulate with hands, feet or elbows, or use a sip-and-puff interface that sends signals when a voter inhales or exhales through a straw.
Nolan and his wife Kim, who has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair, said they had to rely on assistance from election workers to vote.
Nolan said an employee read him the list of candidates and helped insert his ballot in a paper template containing holes where voters mark their choices. He said he made his selection by memorizing the candidate list, then counting down the appropriate number of lines and marking an X, adding that the elections worker ultimately saw his ballot. His wife said she verbally communicated her choice to a staff member.
One wheelchair user in the Greater Toronto Area said neither the paddle nor the sip-and-puff interface were working when she went to vote, adding she had a companion input her choices for her using the audio tactile option. She said staff did their best to address problems, but said they told her they only received a brief demonstration of how the machine worked.
Pellerin said Elections Ontario has a 30-minute video on assistive voting technology and requires a designated staff person from the 124 returning offices to attend a mandatory training session. That person then schedules training with their staff and keeps a manual on hand for reference.
Elections Ontario wants to hear from those who encountered issues, Pellerin said.
“The integrity and accessibility of the voting process is very important,” she said. “We welcome any and all feedback that electors are able to provide, as this does inform how we either maintain or change our processes.”
David Lepofsky reached out after voting in Toronto and encountering problems.
The totally blind disability rights advocate said his polling station didn’t have braille versions of some forms he was asked to sign and said there were problems verifying the accuracy of his ballot before it was cast. While he was ultimately able to complete this step, he said he knows of other instances where blind voters had to cast votes without being able to check their ballot was marked properly.
In North Bay, Ont., Penny Leclair, who is deaf-blind and uses a hearing implant, said she tried unsuccessfully to use the audio-tactile interface.
She said brief blocks of text read out by the machines do not allow users like her enough time to position headphones appropriately and make adjustments to reading speed and volume levels. She called on Elections Ontario to implement an option that would see machines read out an uninterrupted block of text that deaf people could use as a test before beginning the voting process.
“Over the years we’ve advocated for independent voting,” Leclair said of the disabled community. “We still don’t have it completely.”
Canadian Press June 4, 2018
Originally posted at:
June 4, 2018 12:57 pm
Ontario election: Disability advocates hope new government will revisit accessibility law
By Michelle McQuigge The Canadian Press
Global News at 6: Advocates say province planning to reduce accessibility requirements for small businesses
TORONTO – If Emily Daigle had wanted to watch Ontario make history when it passed Canada’s first accessibility law in 2005, she would have had to do so from afar thanks to the lack of wheelchair accommodations in the legislature’s visitors’ gallery.
More than a decade later, Daigle and other disability advocates say the law that was supposed to eliminate such barriers has had little effect.
Even if the party that wins Thursday’s election heeds calls to improve the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, Daigle will still struggle to get a front-row seat to the conversation. The visitors’ gallery remains inaccessible to wheelchairs and while five spots are available elsewhere, the distinction makes Daigle feel voices like hers are not as welcome in the province’s political discourse.
The situation underscores what, for many, is a critical issue the new government will need to address – revisiting the legislation’s stated goal of making Ontario fully accessible by 2025 and implementing major changes to get that process back on track.
“Right now it’s about as worthless as Dollarama toilet paper,” Daigle said of the law. “It has no teeth.”
The law – often referred to by its acronym, AODA – has dominated many campaign discussions around disability issues, which some activists say have been more numerous and nuanced than in past elections.
The three main parties have all made pledges or even explicit platform commitments geared toward the estimated 1.9 million Ontarians living with physical, intellectual or developmental disabilities.
Some of those came in response to a letter sent out by the AODA Alliance, a non-partisan advocacy group that tackles issues around the province’s access legislation.
Chairman David Lepofsky outlined 48 accessibility related requests for the incoming administration and pressed the governing Liberals, the Progressive Conservatives, the New Democrats and the Green Party for their commitments on each one.
All four asserted support for the AODA and the need for greater enforcement, which the alliance has flagged as an urgent priority.
Government data obtained by the alliance showed that since 2013, more than half of private-sector companies with at least 20 employees had not filed mandatory AODA compliance reports. During that time, the government issued only five monetary non-compliance penalties.
Many of the alliance’s issues were not addressed in party responses, but Lepofsky said this year’s campaign marked the first time he’d secured accessibility related pledges from all four parties.
Another sign of growing engagement, he said, was an all-party debate in Toronto organized by community service providers and grass-roots organizations.
The Liberals defended their record but asserted more work needed to be done, including on AODA enforcement and mental health supports. Candidate Damin Starr stated the party promise to raise Ontario Disability Support Program rates by three per cent for each of the next three years, as well as revisiting asset limits and how much money recipients can keep from employment or other sources.
The NDP, represented by MPP Monique Taylor, promised its own ODSP increase of at least five per cent. Other commitments included thousands of new affordable or supportive housing units and modernization of the Assistive Devices program that alleviates the cost of some accessible technology and mobility devices but has not expanded to cover heavily used tools like smart phones.
The party’s platform also promises to create a stand-alone ministry for mental health issues and do away with regulations forcing disabled youth to reapply for support programs once they turn 18.
The latter priority was echoed by Progressive Conservative candidate Christine Elliott, who also emphasized a $1.9 billion promise to bolster mental health supports and a public education campaign for employers looking to hire disabled workers.
Elliott, however, would not join the other parties in promising an immediate social support increase, saying that would be addressed when the province’s finances were under control. An individual on ODSP currently makes less than $1,200 per month, a figure well below the poverty line.
Promises from the Green Party, represented by leader Mike Schreiner, included a province-wide expansion of the guaranteed income pilot that rolled out in parts of Ontario last year, and barrier-free public transit.
Lepofsky said it’s been encouraging to witness such a wide-ranging discussion, crediting the disabled community for mobilizing on social media and applying pressure.
He said he’s observed the effects of that pressure in many ways. While he knows of few disabled candidates on the campaign trail, more people are openly discussing disability concerns that impact their families. Candidates are also making efforts to provide election materials in multiple formats and hold meetings in accessible venues, he said.
But Lepofsky noted that disability issues are still not frequently discussed by the prominent party leaders.
The incoming government will have the last real chance to reform the AODA and get province-wide accessibility back on schedule, he said, adding the uncertainty of the race means there may be room for contributions from all parties.
“One of the possibilities … is a minority government, and in a minority government we want to make sure that our issues become a priority,” he said. “That’s not just a function of what whoever wins does, but what the opposition parties make a priority.”
June 5, 2018 Email from AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky to Elections Ontario
To: Deborah Danis, Chief Administrative Officer, Elections Ontario
From: David Lepofsky
Date: June 5, 2018
Re: Barriers in Voting Process for Voters with Disabilities
Thank you for speaking to me on the phone yesterday afternoon. I want to confirm the following among the points that we discussed.
You said that Elections Ontario accepts the veracity of the statement I sent you regarding the events that I experienced when I went to vote on June 1, 2018. You have received an incident report from the Returning Office in question. It does not contradict the events as I described them. I would add to our discussion that I would appreciate receiving a copy of the incident report.
You agreed that my description was very fair, having regard to the fact that I attributed good intentions to the poll worker in question.
You said you deeply apologize to me for the experience I had when voting. You did not try to justify it, or say it was acceptable. You said that I should not have to grapple with the equipment and I should not have my confidentiality violated. You said that Elections Ontario takes this very seriously.
You told me that the adapted voting machine we were offered in this election is the same one that was used in previous elections. I asked whether this machine requires the ballot to be removed from the machine and then re-inserted in that machine or another machine in order to verify my vote. You said you would find out and let me know. You and your accessibility lead on the call, Edie Forsyth, were not familiar with the machine’s specifics.
You told me that Elections Ontario does not now have a disability advisory committee. I explained that Elections Ontario had had one some years ago, but Elections Ontario had terminated it. You saw merit in establishing one after the election to get advice on how to better serve voters with disabilities. You asked if I would be agreeable to give feedback after this election. I said I would.
You explained that Elections Ontario gives training to its 55,000 workers on disability accommodation, but you made it clear it was uncertain how much of that training gets through to them, and that it could be strengthened. You said that this voting equipment is used infrequently. When poll workers are called on to use it, they may or may not be comfortable with it.
I explained that given my experience and that of others, as reported to us, and which I have now forwarded to you since our call, it is clear that Elections Ontario’s current provisions to accommodate voters with disabilities are manifestly insufficient. You spoke in accord with this view, and suggested that Elections Ontario has to explore other options, once this election is over.
You told me that before receiving my complaint, Elections Ontario’s senior officials had had a discussion about whether this voting machine for voters with disabilities was sufficient. You indicated to me your view that it is not sufficient or optimal. You said that immediately after this election, when Elections Ontario looks at how to revise its procedures, it will be looking at other solutions for voters with disabilities.
Thank you for agreeing to my request to let me know what efforts and actions Elections Ontario took since the 2014 election and up to the present to explore options for accommodating voters with disabilities, and what if any changes were made over that period. I understand that you must look into this before getting back to me with the answer.
I asked what Elections Ontario is going to do over the days before the June 7, 2018 vote, to address this issue. I proposed that Elections Ontario should send a direction to its front-line poll workers now, alerting them of what happened to me, and giving specific instructions on how to avoid it being repeated. I also suggested that Elections Ontario should let poll workers know of a hotline number which will reach someone at head office with expertise in this voting machine, who can guide them step-by-step through its use, when a voter wants to use it. A voter with a disability who appears at a Returning Office, and who wants to use it, should not have to wait for a long time while the poll workers figure out how to properly work the machine. Please let me know what steps are now taken to deal with this issue.
I told you that I would like to discuss this with Chief Electoral Officer Greg Essensa. You said you would pass this on, but it would likely have to be after the election, because he is so busy.
I also noted one other potential barrier issue that I noticed while at the Returning Office, although it did not affect my voting. I overheard a poll worker telling a voter that they cannot have a cell phone in the polling booth. It was evident from their exchange with a voter that they thought it might be sufficient if the phone was turned off or not used, but it could be brought into the booth. The poll worker then spoke in terms of not taking pictures. You confirmed to me that there had been a concern about voters taking a picture of a ballot and then posting it online.
I explained, for Elections Ontario’s information, that some people with disabilities use a cell phone for accessibility purposes. For example, a person with low vision might use it to magnify the text on the ballot. A blanket prohibition on cell phones, such as the poll worker announced in my presence, is a barrier to that. You said that this kind of disability-related use of a cell phone may be permitted. I explained that if a voter hears that there is a ban on them, they won’t necessarily know that this cannot operate as a barrier to using the cell phone as a disability aid or accommodation.
I look forward to hearing from you.
More Information About the AODA Alliance and Accessibility Issues in the 2018 Ontario Election
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For the AODA Alliance tips to all voters with disabilities on how to try to avoid facing any disability barriers when trying to vote in the 2018 election, visit:
To watch the new AODA Alliance video on serious accessibility problems at new and recently renovated Toronto area public transit stations, visit:
2 minute teaser/promo:
To read the AODA Alliance’s May 16, 2018 news release that unveiled the commitments on disability accessibility from the major Ontario parties, visit: https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/news-release-major-disability-coalition-unveils-the-parties-2018-election-pledges-on-accessibility-for-1-9-million-ontarians-with-disabilities/
To read the new AODA Alliance 2018 Election Action Kit, in order to get ideas on how to raise disability accessibility issues in the June 7, 2018 Ontario election campaign, visit:
For a riding-by-riding list of all the candidates’ contact info we could find, visit https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/riding-by-riding-list-of-contact-information-for-the-major-parties-candidates-in-the-june-7-2018-ontario-general-election-as-of-may-2-2018/
To read the AODA Alliance’s analysis of each party’s commitments on accessibility, visit
To read the AODA Alliance’s issue-by-issue breakdown of the commitments of each party on accessibility, visit
To read the AODA Alliance’s April 2, 2018 letter to the party leaders, listing the disability accessibility commitments we seek, visit:
To read the Ontario Green Party’s May 4, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance, setting out its election pledges on accessibility, visit:
To read the Ontario NDP’s May 5, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance, setting out its election pledges on accessibility, visit:
To read the Ontario Liberal Party’s May 14, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance, setting out its election pledges on accessibility, visit:
To read the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party’s May 15, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance, setting out its election pledges on accessibility, visit:
For more background on the AODA Alliance’s non-partisan campaign for accessibility in this election, visit
To learn more about the AODA Alliance’s efforts to ensure that the voting process is fully accessible to voters with disabilities, visit:
You can always send your feedback to us on any AODA and accessibility issue at email@example.com
Have you taken part in our “Picture Our Barriers campaign? If not, please join in! You can get all the information you need about our “Picture Our Barriers” campaign by visiting www.aodaalliance.org/2016
We encourage you to use the Government’s toll-free number for reporting AODA violations. We fought long and hard to get the Government to promise this, and later to deliver on that promise. If you encounter any accessibility problems at any large retail establishments, it will be especially important to report them to the Government via that toll-free number. Call 1-866-515-2025.
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Check out our new and expanded collection of online videos about the history, strategies and accomplishments of Ontario’s non-partisan grassroots accessibility campaign, available at:
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