On March 12, 2010, Canada ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Much more than “just another treaty,” the Convention is, essentially, Canada’s promise to protect, promote and advance the rights of people with disabilities. An important part of the Convention covers the right to vote. Article 29 states:
States Parties shall guarantee to persons with disabilities political rights and the opportunity to enjoy them on an equal basis with others, and shall undertake:
(a) To ensure that persons with disabilities can effectively and fully participate in political and public life on an equal basis with others, directly or through freely chosen representatives, including the right and opportunity for persons with disabilities to vote and be elected...
(b) To promote actively an environment in which persons with disabilities can effectively and fully participate in the conduct of public affairs, without discrimination and on an equal basis with others, and encourage their participation in public affairs...
This adds more weight to our work over the past two years to make electoral systems fully accessible and inclusive. We have worked with government bodies and staff to remove barriers that were hampering this goal.
With the passing of Bill 231, the Election Statute Law Amendment Act, all polling stations for provincial elections are required to be accessible. Now we are shifting our focus to barriers faced by electors and candidates beyond the voting booth.
We’ve asked disability advocacy groups, provincial officials and all of the political parties in Ontario to consider other disability-related barriers that electors, candidates and individuals seeking nomination can face before, during and after elections. These include:
Inaccessible facilities: political party, constituency and riding association offices as well as nomination, fundraising, campaign rally and all candidate debate events located in facilities with entrances, stairs, washrooms and other features that are inaccessible to people with mobility-related disabilities.
Communication and other services: meetings and events offering no sign language interpretation, real time captioning, deaf-blind intervention or attendant care, making them inaccessible to persons who are deaf, deafened, deaf-blind or hard-of-hearing or who have other types of disabilities.
Inaccessible print and information technology: materials produced or used by parties, riding associations, candidates or individuals seeking nomination that are inaccessible to persons with vision disabilities; this includes flyers, brochures, position papers, etc. not available in alternative formats such as electronic text, Braille or large-print publications. Websites not designed to meet international accessibility standards are also a barrier.
Disability-related expenses: expenses incurred by candidates or other individuals with or without disabilities that are not reimbursed.
We will continue to monitor election accessibility issues during and beyond the October 2011 provincial election.