Elections Canada: Accessibility Policy and Service Offering for Persons with Disabilities
Elections Canada is an independent, non-partisan agency that reports directly to the Parliament of Canada. EC’s important responsibilities include conducting federal elections, by-elections and referendums. EC’s long-term vision envisages accessibility to be an ongoing process to provide inclusive, universal and flexible services that benefit everyone and in the recent years they have specially focused on reducing barriers for people with disabilities.
Policy for People with Disabilities
EC developed the current policy for People with Disabilities (PwD’s) in February 2015 in consultation with EC’s Advisory Group for Disability Issues. EC launched this Advisory Group in 2014 to fulfill its commitment to ongoing consultations with groups that represent people with disabilities. An early outcome of this consultation came in February 2015, with the development of an Accessibility Policy and Service Offering.
EC is committed to inclusive, universal and varied services that respond to the needs of all electors. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to vote in federal elections in Canada. The Canada Elections Act provides for a variety of voting methods and allows the Chief Electoral Officer to advertise the services it offers for assisting voters with disabilities. EC has worked to remove the obstacles voters may encounter by making continual improvements to the electoral process, including communications and administrative processes. To ensure accessibility, the voting process includes the following features:
- Flexible voting methods: voting by mail or at a local Elections Canada office; advance voting days; mobile polls serving facilities for seniors or persons with physical disabilities; and, in special cases, voting at home in the presence of an election officer and a witness.
- As much as possible, level access to local Elections Canada offices, polling stations and other premises used during an election.
- In the event that a polling station does not have level access, provision of a transfer certificate on request and permission to vote at another location.
- If requested in advance, sign language interpreters to assist electors at the polls.
- The ability to have an election officer, a friend or a relative to assist an elector with a disability in marking his or her ballot at the poll.
- Voting screens that admit plenty of light, lighted magnifiers to make the ballot easier to read, Braille and large-print lists of candidates on Election Day and tactile and Braille templates that fit on top of a ballot.
Requisite training to election officers and community relations officers for meeting the accessibility needs of people with varied disabilities.
Policy, a Living Document
EC intends to continue working with the disability community to better understand accessibility issues and reduce barriers. Accessibility policy and Service Offering document has a specific focus on the tools and services that people with disabilities can expect when they vote. This document is intended as a "living" document to be updated following the next general election in light of accessibility best practices, evaluations and as new opportunities for improvements arise. Among other things, the policy describes the mechanism for feedback, complaints and inquiries from individuals concerning accessibility. Elections Canada welcomes any input that will help it to better serve PwD’s. Questions or feedback on this policy may be provided to EC online at 1-800-463-6868.
EC is committed to building upon the accessible electoral framework that Canadians trust and use, to be responsive to the needs of Canadians of all abilities, to working to accommodate voters and employees with disabilities, to make the voting experience as accessible as possible and to engage people with disabilities about the services that affect them. In this context, EC is committed to adopting the following principles:
- Design for choice and flexibility by thinking inclusively.
- Educate and inform Canadians using plain language.
- Provide Canadians with modern and convenient ways to access information, register and vote.
- Improve the voting experience and make it easier to participate by removing barriers.
Support the independence, and respect the dignity, of people with disabilities.
Elections Canada works on a continued basis to remove the obstacles voters may encounter by making improvements to the electoral process, including communication and administrative processes. Since the last general election in 2011, EC has implemented a series of measures to improve the accessibility of the electoral process. These include:
- Enhanced and expanded cross-disability training for both election workers and Elections Canada staff.
- Increased investment in community outreach for people with disabilities.
- Improved signage and voting screens at polling places.
- New voting tools such as magnifiers and Braille lists of candidates.
- A polling place accessibility review process that follows a new checklist of 35 accessibility criteria.
- Improvements to website accessibility ( see Link for details).
- A revamped communications campaign that presents information in plain language and in accessible formats.
Greater consultation and outreach programs to share information. EC works with national and provincial organizations and, through their networks, gain an additional way to reach people with disabilities.
Informed by Consultation and Research
Elections Canada's ongoing accessibility initiatives build upon research and consultation undertaken since the last general election in 2011.
In 2011–2012, Elections Canada met with 19 national and provincial disability organizations across Canada. The goal of this exercise was to build better relationships with the disability community and gain a better understanding of its needs and the barriers that people face. In 2014, Elections Canada launched its first ever Advisory Group for Disability Issues.
The Voting Experience – Tools and Services at Polling Places
In consultation with experts and the disability community EC has developed accessibility criteria for polling stations. The returning officers use Accessibility Checklist to evaluate the accessibility of potential sites prior to the election. This checklist contains 35 criteria, 15 of which are mandatory. After an election is called, EC sends out a voter information card to all registered voters indicating the accessibility of polling places with the following information, in one of three ways:
- The site meets 15 accessibility criteria. The accessibility symbol is displayed, along with where to find more information.
- The site is wheelchair accessible. The accessibility symbol is displayed, along with the phone number that you can call for help.
The site has no wheelchair access. The accessibility symbol is not displayed, but voters are encouraged to call their returning office for alternate location.
Voter Information Service also provides complete details of accessibility to the concerned voters. EC’s help lines also provide guidance.
Tools and Services
EC provides a variety of tools and services for PwD’s:
- Magnifiers with light (4x)
- A tactile and Braille voting template that fits on top of a ballot
- Large-print lists of candidates
- Braille lists of candidates (available on election day only)
- Language or sign language interpretation (to be requested in advance)
- Assistance in marking a ballot
- Improved voting screens that let in more light
Information through video if required.
Language or Sign language interpretation
If a voter requires language or sign-language interpretation on Election Day, he may request Elections Canada to provide the service as per time prescribed. Online service through TTY is also made available
Elections Canada supports the use of service animals to assist voters with disabilities when they go vote at polling places. Election workers are fully aware that service animals are working animals and should not be distracted, spoken to or offered food.
Assistance from Others
Voters with disabilities may require the assistance of a support person to help them vote. Support people provide assistance to a person with a disability and may be a family member, friend, personal support worker, intervener or sign-language interpreter. The support person will be required to take an oath to respect the secrecy of the voter's choice. A deputy returning officer can also help a voter mark the ballot. This will always be done in full view of a poll clerk.
Voters with disabilities, in particular people with a visual impairment, may use a personal mobile device, such as a smart phone, to read their ballot behind the voting screen. All reasonable steps should be taken to preserve the secrecy of the vote.
Community Relations Officers for Accessibility
The Community Relations Officer program was created to reduce barriers to voting faced by certain groups of voters. Officers provide information on when, where and ways to register and vote as well as the tools and services available to voters.
EC has added community relations officers for accessibility across Canada to engage voters with disabilities and local organizations, and to serve as a resource to the returning officer.
Additionally, information on accessibility has been included in a new communications booklet and toolkit provided to all community relations officers.
Training for Election Workers
The training program takes into consideration the time constraints associated with training electoral officers and incorporates in-class and online training. Our online training modules, including videos, are fully accessible and have been tested by people with disabilities.
Elections Canada's accessibility training:
- Makes election workers aware of accessibility tools at the polling place.
- Provides tips on how to maintain these accessibility features.
- Makes election workers aware of various tools available to voters, and
Educates them on how to approach a voter who may require assistance.
The Elections Canada website is compliant with the federal standard on web accessibility, which follows World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) accessibility guidelines (version 2, level AA). EC is always working to improve the website's accessibility.
Edited by ECI