In late 2013 the Canadian national elections agency Elections Canada formed an Advisory Group on Disability Issues, and I was invited to be a member. Initiatives the agency is working on include ensuring election staff are trained to meet the needs of voters with a disability; developing a Braille template to help Blind and partially-sighted voters; ensuring that voters with a disability can vote more independently and with greater privacy; and monitoring progress and how initiatives are being implemented.
This month, citizens in Toronto tested out some of these principles as they made a trip to the polls – their third in about five months – to vote for a new mayor; their local councillor; and a school board trustee in their area.
This time however, things were quite a bit different for voters with disabilities, as we were able to use a new “voter access terminal” allowing people with a disability to vote independently.
As a Blind voter, I was extremely excited about this new development as it gave me the opportunity to take my time when voting and I was able to do it without having to depend on a returning officer to help me.
I was able to take my headphones along and plug them into the terminal’s jack. There were several well defined buttons that were easy to distinguish, enabling one to review the list of names for each category; make repeated reviews; select a candidate for each position; and confirm one’s choice.
So in short, I was able to sit in front of this new voter access machine, fetch a list of candidates, make my choice from this list and then submit my choice. I also had the choice not to vote for anyone if I so chose.
The voice on this terminal was extremely clear and distinct and the beauty about it all is that I as a blind person was able to vote in private without anyone knowing whom I have voted for and at the end of it all I was able to remove my own ballot from the terminal’s output tray and place it myself into the ballot box.
Easy as anything, and a terrific invention: now let us see if this terminal will be able to make its way up the ladder to provincial and federal elections. Some time during the course of 2015, Canada will once more be going to the polls to elect a new federal government, and Elections Canada has already indicated that we can look forward to some important changes when it comes to improved accessibility for these elections as well.
I believe that if countries are truly serious about wanting persons with disabilities to be an active part of their voting population then it is vitally important for meaningful dialogue to take place between the governmental body in charge of the running of elections and a representative segment of organisations for and of those with disabilities. We should never assume that governments would naturally know how to proceed in a matter such as this and it is up to voters with disabilities to speak up in a meaningful way.
NOTE: Donna Jodhan is an accessibility and special needs business consultant and author.