Accessing Democracy

Accessible voting sign telling people how to provide Elections Canada feedback on voting booth accessibility
Clara and I love the "interpretive" wheelchair guy at the bottom. Totally vanguard art.

Over the past few years, much has been made about the lack of accessible polling stations across the country. While a bulk of the publicized concerns surround the use (or the lack) of technology to allow people with visual impairments to vote independently, the problems stretch much further. For instance, I will never forget reading about the polling station in Toronto that was located downstairs. Is it sick that my first thought was “Man, I wish that happened to me”?

Dreams of rabble-rousing aside, this little incident served as a bit of a wake-up call to Elections Canada, who are now actively working to make sure future elections will be accessible to all Canadians, regardless of their ability.

Voting in the advanced poll last weekend, because I just couldn’t wait any longer to get my democracy on, I was surprised to discover a poster encouraging voters to fill out a feedback form on the accessibility of the polling station. In fact, while I checked in to vote I was asked by one of the staffers working the poll to take a second and fill out one of the forms after voting to let them know how things went. What better way to get feedback on how accessible the site is than doing it right there on the spot? As it turns out, there were some minor issues with the polling station I voted at, specifically a sloped floor that would have proved difficult for manual wheelchairs or walkers. In fact, as I was leaving the polling station I overheard two seniors making this exact point.

So Elections Canada is attempting to become more accessible–but they need our help. Please take a few seconds to fill out a feedback form after you vote on May 2nd, or give them a call at the number listed on the poster. Together, we can help identify the problems and develop workable solutions. And why does it matter? Because being able to choose who leads our country is a fundamental right of all citizens, a civic duty we all have, and voting is perhaps one of the best ways for people with disabilities to begin putting accessibility on the national agenda. With less than half of the Canadian public bothering to vote, it wouldn’t take many of us criggas to become an important voting block.

By Jeffrey Preston

Born with a rare neuromuscular myopathy, Jeff has spent his life dedicated to advocating for himself and others with disabilities. With a PhD in Media Studies from Western University, Jeff's research focuses on the representation of disability in popular and digital culture. Jeff is currently an Assistant Professor of Disability Studies at King's University College @ Western University in London, ON.

2 replies on “Accessing Democracy”

Hi Jeff!
I don’t want to make you jealous but it happened to a very good friend of mine during the Montréal municipal elections in 2009. She has been unable to vote because her polling station could only be accessed by going down a flight of stairs. She filled a complaint at the Québec human rights commission. She is still waiting…!

STILL waiting?? Does she have a lawyer? Given the judgement in Ontario (he had a pretty hefty cash settlement from what I’ve heard) it should be a rubber stamp situation.