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April 7, 2010


Here is the latest news in our campaign for fully accessible provincial and municipal elections in Ontario:

April 5 2010 Toronto Sun
News - Canada

Polling station was spiked by volleyball game

Disabled group pushing for legislation to protect rights
Queen’s Park Bureau Chief

A provincial by-election polling station was bounced to a non-accessible site by a volleyball game, disability activists say.

Members of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance have been trying to find out since February why a Toronto Centre polling station was moved to a room that could be accessed only by stairs.

As reported by the Toronto Sun, several voters left behind wheelchairs, scooters and walkers to painfully struggle down the steps at St. Joseph’s College School on Wellesley St. E. near Queen’s Park to cast their ballots.

Elections Ontario has confirmed that a playoff volleyball game forced a last-minute switch from an accessible gym to a basement room, Alliance Chair David Lepofsky said.

”This is our democracy ... a volleyball game trumps disabled people being able to vote,” he said.

Lepofsky appeared before the Ontario Legislature’s Standing Committee last week to discuss the February incident and argue for stronger legislation to protect people’s right to vote.

Many disabled voters encounter inaccessible polls throughout the province, he said.

Bill 231, the government’s proposed legislation to modernize elections, should set definite time targets to improve access for the estimated one million disabled voters, he said.

“They face the indignity of possibly being carried down stairs just to be able to vote,” Lepofsky told the committee. “Bill 231 will not fix those barriers to accessible elections now; they will not ensure accessible elections ever.”

The legislation calls for more research and consultation by Elections Ontario, but Lepofsky said, “How much more research do you need to do to know that people in wheelchairs can’t go down stairs?”

In particular, Lepofsky is concerned that the legislation forbids the use of technology other than expensive accessible voting machines that cost up to $11,000 each.

Telephone voting would be cheaper and more convenient for disabled voters but the legislation doesn’t call for it, he said.

“It forbids it,” Lepofsky said.

A source told the Sun the legislation could yet be amended to allow telephone voting.

Premier Dalton McGuinty has expressed an openness to new technologies to improve access to voting provided the process remained secure.

“I just don’t think we’ve evolved as much as we could have when it comes to ensuring that people have access to technology to participate in the democratic process,” McGuinty said. “Every day billions of dollars slosh back and forth in the global economy. That’s money exchanged via technology. So I think that we should be able to do something a little bit more when it comes to exercising our democratic rights.”

Lepofsky said any improvements to election accessibility should apply to municipal elections as well.

The Toronto Star April 7 2010

Blind activist sees errors in accessible election bill

David Lepofsky may be blind, but he can clearly see that legislation to help disabled Ontarians vote is a "toothless" waste of time.

Some folks, to steal a phrase, see things as they are and ask why. David Lepofsky, though blind, sees things as they might be and asks why not.

Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, turned in a virtuoso performance recently before a legislature committee, shredding a bill he says is "toothless" and does little to eliminate barriers to voting faced by the disabled.

"Eleven years ago," he began, he and others convened a press conference at Queen's Park to call for accessible elections for the more than 1 million voters in Ontario with disabilities.

"Eleven years later, we still don't have them."

People with mobility issues face curbs and stairs and doorways that are too narrow.

The blind "cannot mark our own ballot and verify that we marked it right," he said. "We have to rely instead on someone else to mark our ballot and hope they get it right, and hope they don't spoil it, and hope they don't tell anyone."

Lepofsky said a recent survey suggested 44 per cent of voters with special needs experienced problems at their voting stations, compared to 8 per cent for voters in general.

"Bill 231 will not fix those barriers to accessible elections now. They will not ensure accessible elections ever."

The legislation does, he conceded, allow Elections Ontario to do research and hold conferences.

"That's great. We won't be able to vote and they'll have conferences."

It provides for mail-in ballots and home visits by Elections Ontario. But only at that body's discretion.

It says Elections Ontario may use accessible voting machines, but doesn't have to.

"And what is thrown at us?" he asked. Precisely what one MPP told the Canadian National Institute for the Blind just before Lepofsky took the mike. "That it's going to cost tens of millions of dollars.

"That's because your legislation's drafted to lock the government into the most expensive option. It forbids the use of technology that the banks have used for years to enable people like me ... to do our banking securely, safely and in private from any telephone we pick up."

In any case, he said there are costs in not providing accessibility.

Elections Canada was recently ordered by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to pay a voter who faced barriers to a polling station $10,000 in damages.

What really got Lepofsky's goat, however, was the chief of Elections Ontario's claim that the body was still learning about accessibility issues.

"I ask members of the committee: How many of you think there is more to learn about the fact that people in wheelchairs can't go downstairs to vote? Is that a tough one? You folks bemoan the low voter turnout at elections. We're here for voters who want to vote, but face barriers that are eminently preventable."

He suggested Elections Ontario be required to post voting locations well in advance of election day and "let us go out and check them out."

"Here's one for you. Why not require this fixed-date election to be at the end of June (instead of October)? ... And if you've got a problem with indoor accessible locations, pitch a tent in the parking lot in front of the inaccessible church or school and let people vote outside. This is not rocket science."

Luckily for MPPs on the committee, Lepofsky used all his allotted 15 minutes and there was no time for questions. Brave - or foolish - would have been the member to take him on.

For when it comes to spotting inequity, David Lepofsky has eyes like a hawk.

Jim Coyle's provincial affairs column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.