Some Media Cover the Federal Election’s Disability Accessibility Issues and/or the Inaccessibility of Mail-In Ballots

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

Web: www.aodaalliance.org

Email: aodafeedback@gmail.com

Twitter: @aodaalliance

Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

Some Media Cover the Federal Election’s Disability Accessibility Issues and/or the Inaccessibility of Mail-In Ballots

September 14, 2021

        SUMMARY

Canada’s September 20, 2021 election is just six days away. We have been trying very hard to get the media to cover this election’s disability issues, especially as they relate to the requirement in the Accessible Canada Act that Canada become accessible by 2040. It should be extremely newsworthy that only one of the federal party leaders has even answered the AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 written request for 12 specific commitments regarding disability accessibility.

As we have found in past elections, it is very hard to get the media to cover this election issue. This is so, even though major media outlets devote a great deal of time and space to election issues. Of course, the accessibility issue on which the AODA Alliance has concentrated is only one of several important disability issues in this election.

In this Update, we share three recent news reports:

  • CTV News Online on September 9, 2021
  • The September 13, 2021 report by the Canadian Press, published in different media, including that date’s Chat News Today. This article was picked up by a number of other news outlets, like the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail, but the Star and Globe edited out its references to the party leaders who have not answered the AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 request for election pledges on accessibility.

In addition to that coverage, CTV’s September 8, 2021 national “Your Morning”, included a six -minute interview on the federal election’s disability issues. AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky was interviewed, as well as accessibility consultant Thea Kurdi. This interview is now available with captions at https://youtu.be/ZJ6yEOvOm8I We are tweeting this interview to as many candidates as possible during the federal election. We invite you to share it with candidates, voters and anyone else. Use email, social media or any other way you can to circulate it. If you want to see the names, email address and Twitter handles for as many of the candidates as our volunteers could dig up, visit https://www.aodaalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/2021-federal-Election-Candidates-Final-List.docx

To date, we have not found CBC covering the election’s disability issues. We have reached out to CBC among many other media organizations.

One of the 12 commitments we have sought from the parties relates to making federal elections accessible to voters with disabilities. As with all of our requests, none of the parties have answered except the NDP. In the meantime, mail-in ballots have become much, much more important during the COVID-19 pandemic. The mail-in ballot system operated by Elections Canada is quite substantially inaccessible to voters with certain disabilities such as vision loss or dyslexia. Two of the articles set out below address this obvious barrier.

AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, himself totally blind, used the mail-in ballot. He tweeted about its inaccessibility. Elections Canada heard about these tweets and tweeted to David Lepofsky. David Lepofsky then responded to Elections Canada on Twitter. These tweets are all set out below.

MORE DETAILS

Sept 11 and 12 2021 tweets on accessibility of mail in votes by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky

September 11, 2021

David Lepofsky: I voted by mail to avoid COVID-19 danger. Canada’s mail-in ballot is inaccessible to #blind voters like me. I can’t mark my ballot independently in private & verify my choice. This violates the Charter of Rights & Canada Human Rights Act. #elxn44 #CRPD

September 12, 2021

Elections Canada: @DavidLepofsky Hello David, we recognize that the special ballot process is not ideal for an elector who is unable to mark their ballot independently. (1/3)

Elections Canada: @DavidLepofsky If you require assistance to mark your ballot, we recommend you contact your local EC office to request an appointment to vote with the assistance of an election officer. They will help complete your registration process and then can mark your ballot on your behalf. (2/3)

Elections Canda: @DavidLepofsky You can find the contact information for your local office here: https://www.elections.ca/Scripts/vis/FindED?L=e&QID=-1&PAGEID=20 (3/3)

David Lepofsky: @DavidLepofsky: Not ideal? The mail-in ballot process is totally inaccessible to #blind people like me. That’s much more than “not ideal”! #accessibility #AccessibleCanada #elxn55

@ElectionsCan_E: @DavidLepofsky Hello David, we recognize that the special ballot process is not ideal for an elector who is unable to mark their ballot independently. (1/3)

David Lepofsky: @DavidLepofsky: I don’t want any election officials seeing who I vote for. That violates the secret ballot. #accessibility #AccessibleCanada #Elxn44

@ElectionsCan_E: @DavidLepofsky If you require assistance to mark your ballot, we recommend you contact your local EC office to request an appointment to vote with the assistance of an election officer. They will help complete your registration process and then can mark your ballot on your behalf. (2/3)

David Lepofsky: @DavidLepofsky: I did not go to the polling station, in order to avoid unnecessary exposure. My wife, who would come with me, has a compromised immune system #accessibility #AccessibleCanada #Elxn44

@ElectionsCan_E: @DavidLepofsky If you require assistance to mark your ballot, we recommend you contact your local EC office to request an appointment to vote with the assistance of an election officer. They will help complete your registration process and then can mark your ballot on your behalf. (2/3)

 CTV News September 9, 2021

Originally posted at https://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/federal-election-2021/canadians-with-disabilities-say-they-re-missing-from-the-election-discussion-1.5577558

 

Canadians with disabilities say they’re missing from the election discussion

Jeremiah Rodriguez

CTVNews.ca Writer

@jererodriguezzz

TORONTO — Federal party leaders aren’t listening enough to the concerns of disabled Canadians, advocates say. They say key priorities missing from campaign pledges include equitable emergency relief, stronger housing, and workplace polices that address all types of disabilities.

Sarah Jama, co-founder of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario, said this lack of scope boils down to a “lack of understanding of what systemic ableism looks like.”

“Nothing is prioritized by the government unless there’s people campaigning behind it,” she told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.

She said this could be partially addressed by having more disabled candidates running for office or being key parts of campaign decision-making. Jama said people in power don’t always make appreciate just how many Canadians have some form of a disability.

Disabled people make up approximately 22 per cent of Canada’s entire population. And between 62 and 75 per cent of people with disabilities have disabilities which aren’t immediately apparent, such as deafness, blindness or autism.

One of the biggest issues that Jama says hasn’t received enough attention during this campaign is overhauling care for vulnerable people who currently receive care at home or live in long-term care homes.

Jama said she likes the NDP’s platform commitments to end the private long-term care home system, but wants to see the next government go even beyond that.

“We need to reimagine what long-term care looks like in Canada,” she said. She said she wishes party leaders put forth policies that give vulnerable people more affordable options to receive care at home, keeping them out of long-term care facilities.

Jama also said “it’s also embarrassing” that Canada doesn’t yet have universal pharmacare, and that she wishes all parties agreed that it was essential, especially for people with disabilities.

Both the NDP and the Greens have advocated for a national pharmacare program that would provide prescription drug coverage for all Canadians and permanent residents. And while the Liberals have spent the past few years saying they’re moving forward on pharmacare, their platform only notes existing progress on the file, including the signing of the first provincial-territorial agreement to accelerate its implementation. The Conservatives haven’t endorsed a national pharmacare plan but, in their platform, they promise to negotiate with the pharmaceutical industry to reduce drug prices.

Jama also called for more concrete provisions for disabled people during natural disasters, to ensure they’re prioritized during evacuations.

Many disability advocates have also been critical of recent expansion of access to medical assistance in dying (MAID). They argue that instead of making it easier for disabled people to die, the government should be working to make workplaces and housing more functional for them.

Jama says she supports the parts of the Conservative platform around strengthening protections for disabled people when it comes to MAID, including reinstating the 10-day waiting period, to ensure decisions aren’t made at people’s lowest point. No other major party references further adjustments to MAID in its platform.

ACCESIBILITY TO HOUSING, WORKPLACES TOO MUCH AN ‘AFTERTHOUGHT’

Thea Kurdi, vice president of DesignABLE Environments INC, told CTV’s Your Morning that the situation for disabled people is “much worse than non-disabled people suspect.”

She said accessibility in housing or workplace policies is too often treated as an “afterthought,” instead of a priority aligning with Canada’s commitments to the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Kurdi said that too often, although wheelchair access is prioritized, spaces aren’t also made to be truly accessible to deaf, blind or autistic people. Making spaces accessible for visually-impaired people for example, can mean ensuring braille materials or screen-reading software are available; and, for people with hearing concerns, ensuring there are clear fonts in materials and phone or video relay services.

Jama said any parties’ affordable housing policies must address accessibility concerns but only the Greens and NDP have explicitly connected the two.

The Greens are calling for housing developments receiving federal funding to ensure that 30 per cent of all units are affordable and/or available to people with disabilities. The NDP has advocated for accessibility in housing as well.

The Liberals’ platform says only that affordable housing should keep people with disabilities in mind, while the Conservatives haven’t explicitly linked housing and accessibility in their platform.

ACCESSIBLE CANADA ACT STILL TOO WEAK: ADVOCATE

David Lepofsky, the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said people with disabilities were left out of decision-making throughout the pandemic, including when it came to recovery programs and vaccine prioritization.

“We’ve disproportionately suffered the consequences of the pandemic, and disproportionately been left out of the proper planning for urgent needs during the pandemic,” he told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday. He cited the federal government’s one-time payment took months to get to recipients.

Lepofsky also said that the Accessible Canada Act, which passed two years ago, is still far too weak because it doesn’t include enforceable regulations nor adequate compensation for victims of discrimination.

“We’ve written all the parties to ask them if they will strengthen and offered 12 ways to make things better,” said Lepofsky. Only the NDP responded and pledged to make many of the commitments, he said.

Lepofsky said Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau– who promised ambitious implementation of the act – and his government have been “dragging their feet.”

As for Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole, he hasn’t pledged to make any of the commitments put forth by Lepofsky’s advocacy group — despite the fact that during parliamentary debates in 2018, his party said it would strengthen the Accessible Canada Act, if the Liberals didn’t.

“We’re not partisan. We want all of the party leaders to make those commitments,” he said.

 Chat News Today September 13, 2021

Originally posted at https://chatnewstoday.ca/2021/09/13/blind-lawyer-says-lack-of-accessible-private-voting-options-violates-charter/

Blind lawyer says lack of accessible, private voting options violates Charter

 

Maan Alhmidi

The Canadian Press

SEPTEMBER 13, 2021

A mail-in voting package that voters will receive if requested is seen in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021

David Lepofsky was not able to mark his choice independently on the mail-in ballot Elections Canada sent to him because he is blind.

He opted to not vote in person with his wife because she has a serious immune limitation and they don’t want to risk being infected with COVID-19.

Lepofsky, who is a lawyer advocating for accessibility for disabled people, said the voting options available for blind people don’t allow them to cast their ballots privately.

He said the lack of accessible voting options is a violation of section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which requires equal protection and benefit of the law to those living with mental or physical disabilities.

“This is just awful,” he said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“The basic right we’re all supposed to enjoy is the right to mark our own ballot in private and to mark it independently, for ourselves, and to be able to verify this mark the way we want. And I currently don’t have that as a blind person at the federal level.”

Elections Canada responded to his complaint on Twitter on Sunday saying the agency recognizes “the special ballot process is not ideal for an elector who is unable to mark their ballot independently.”

Lepofsky said describing the situation as being “not ideal” is an “offensive understatement” because the mail-in ballots are not accessible.

He said the other option of voting in-person at a polling station also would not allow him to vote in private because an Elections Canada officer would have to read and verify his voting choice.

An Elections Canada spokesperson said those who provide assistance to voters must take oaths to protect the secrecy of those ballots.

“In the case of a poll worker, oaths are taken as part of the job when they provide assistance to an elector,” Matthew McKenna said in a statement.

According to Statistics Canada, about three per cent of Canadians aged 15 years and older, or about 750,000 people, have a seeing disability that limits their daily activities and 5.8 per cent of this group are legally blind.

Lepofsky, who is the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said his group sent a letter last month to all main federal parties asking for 12 commitments on accessibility, including one on accessibility of the electoral process.

“Only one leader has answered us. And that is (NDP Leader) Jagmeet Singh,” he said.

“We don’t support anyone or oppose anyone. We try to get the strongest commitments we can, but we have not even gotten an answer from (Liberal Leader) Justin Trudeau or (Conservative Leader) Erin O’Toole.”

He said there should be voting options at the federal level for people with disabilities that allow them to vote without needing help from anyone. He said voting by phone through an automated system can be a good option.

“In New Zealand, they have a phone-in ballot which is not internet-connected. That’s available for voters with vision loss. There are different options around the world but we are lagging way behind,” he said.

“We’re in the dark ages.”

Last year, Elections BC provided a telephone voting option for voters who are unable to vote independently, including people who have vision loss, those who have a disability or an underlying health condition that prevents them from voting independently and those who were self-isolating during the last week of the campaign and unable to vote by mail.

McKenna said introducing other voting options requires a law change.

“Changes to the way Canadians vote, including telephone voting, would in almost all cases require authorization from Parliament, typically in the form of legislative change,” he said.

“When assessing new voting processes or services, we undertake significant planning and testing to ensure that the new option is accessible, and that the confidentiality, secrecy, reliability and integrity of the vote are preserved.”

 CTV News September 6, 2021

Originally posted at: https://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/federal-election-2021/mail-in-ballots-still-inaccessible-for-blind-voters-advocates-say-1.5575148

Mail-in ballots still inaccessible for blind voters, advocates say

Alexandra Mae Jones

CTVNews.ca

A mail-in voting package that voters will receive if requested is seen in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021.

TORONTO — The Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) is calling on the government to do more for blind Canadians, pointing out that the Special Ballot to vote by mail is useless to blind voters unless they gain aid from a sighted person, impeding their right to vote in secret.

In a press release Friday, the organization said it was time to fix the discrimination that leaves out these voters, saying they expected more since this election follows the passage of the Accessible Canada Act, which aiming to introduce more legislation to aid those with disabilities.

“Due to the pandemic, there are voters who want to vote by mail,” the release stated. “For blind voters, for whom print is a barrier, the mail-in Special Ballot, which is a printed paper ballot, is proving problematic.”

Since ballots need to be filled out exactly in order to be counted, a blind voter would need the assistance of a sighted person to verify that they had filled out the ballot correctly.

“The inaccessible Special Ballot robs blind voters of the right to vote in secret, which is a key principle of democracy,” the release states.

The release added that the requirement to upload scanned identification to register for mail-in ballots online also requires a blind voter to seek help from a sighted person, and that there is no information about candidates in Braille at advance polls.

“We have been hearing that the mail-in ballot process is not one that can be negotiated independently by all blind voters,” Heather Walkus, CCD 1st vice chair, stated in the 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.”

Elections Canada said in an email statement to CTVNews.ca that they are “committed to responding to the diverse needs of Canadians.”

They said that among the accessibility services they offer, they have sign language interpretation and have redesigned the ballot to improve readability for people who use screen readers.

Elections Canada added that they have a number of tools and services for voting in person, such as large-print candidates lists on advance polling and election days, and Braille lists of candidates on election day. There are also Braille voting templates available on advance polling and election days, they stated.

“We recognize that the special ballot process is not ideal for electors who are unable to mark their own ballot,” the statement continued. “Instead of voting by mail, electors who need help marking their ballot may contact their local Elections Canada office to make an appointment to vote with the assistance of an election officer, who will complete their registration and mark their ballot on their behalf.”

This does not address the issue of voters being entitled to a secret voting process, CCD pointed out. The CCD release stated that they have been calling for other methods to vote for years, such as adding the ability to vote through accessible voting machines and electronic voting.

“We are not seeking an end to the paper ballot, but the addition of accessible voting options so that all voters can exercise their franchise independently and in secret,” Walkus said.

The Accessible Canada Act, which came into effect in 2019, was intended to eliminate barriers and provide greater opportunities for disabled Canadians. It did not specifically include promises for making the voting process more accessible.