ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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United for a Barrier-Free Ontario

Elections Ontario is Caught Out Using a Toronto Polling Station Location that Lacks Proper Accessibility, After Having Been Warned In Advance

June 6, 2014

Summary

1. More Disability Barriers During this Ontario Election

It was bad enough that we had to swing into action during this election campaign due to the possibility of inaccessible All Candidates Debates in Toronto and Cambridge. Days ago, we also had to roll up our advocacy sleeves because we learned of an evident accessibility barrier at a Toronto polling station to be used during the June 12 Ontario election.

We brought this issue to the media. A June 5, 2014 Toronto Star report made public the unacceptable fact that Elections Ontario is using a polling station location in a Toronto riding that lacks proper accessibility, despite the fact that a voter with a disability had alerted Elections Ontario well in advance to this problem when Elections Ontario used that location in the past. The polling station is located at the Royal Canadian Legion BR 03, 150 Eighth St, in Toronto.

Voting takes place on the second floor. The building's elevator door is only 33 inches wide. Some wheelchairs and scooters can get through this door, but too many cannot. It is for that reason that for some time, the Ontario Building Code has required public elevator doors to be at least 36 inches wide.

We are all indebted to voter Frank Pozen for bringing this to our attention, and at our suggestion, to the attention of Elections Ontario. Elections Ontario is the public agency that operates Ontario elections. The Elections Act requires all polling stations to be fully accessible. It charges Elections Ontario with responsibility for ensuring this.

Below we set out an excellent article on this incident in the June 5, 2014 on-line edition of the Toronto Star. We also set out a series of emails to Elections Ontario from Mr. Pozen, the AODA Alliance, and the March of Dimes on this issue, and two responses that Elections Ontario sent to justify its actions. These tell the whole story.

Elections Ontario has focused more effort on polling station accessibility than it did years ago, largely due to pressure from the disability community. Yet Elections Ontario's excuses for using this location for a polling station, set out in its two emails below, are unacceptable:

a)  Elections Ontario in effect acknowledges that it knew that 33 inches is not a sufficient width for an elevator to reach a polling station.

b) Elections Ontario had used this polling station location the past, including in a by-election last summer, so it had first-hand experience with that location, and should have known better than to keep re-using it.

c) The fact that Elections Canada has used that location in a federal election is hardly a ringing endorsement. In 2010, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found that Elections Canada had violated the human rights of voters with disabilities by using another inaccessible location elsewhere in Ontario for a polling station. To learn more about the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal's February 12, 2010 ruling requiring accessibility of federal election polling stations

d) The fact that this Ontario election was called on short notice is also no excuse for using this polling station location. Under the 2010 accessibility reforms to the Elections Act that we fought for, Elections Ontario had to review all polling station locations for accessibility issues six months before the 2011 Ontario general election. As noted above, it also had experience with this polling station location in a 2012 by-election in the same riding. It knew an Ontario election could come after that at any time, since Ontario had a minority government. 

e) Elections Ontario's response to our inquiries, set out below, does not reveal who within Elections Ontario authorized the use of this polling station, even though Elections Ontario knew the elevator door width did not meet proper accessibility requirements. This makes it impossible for us and the public to know whom, if anyone, will be held accountable for authorizing the use of a polling station location lacking full accessibility. 

2. Where the Parties Stand on Making Elections Disability-Accessible

This all shows once again that Ontario needs stronger elections accessibility legislation and substantial new action to ensure that elections are fully accessible to voters with disabilities. The Ontario Government's 2010 amendments to the Elections Act to ensure polling station accessibility have now been conclusively proven to be inadequate. They wrongly leave Elections Ontario to police itself in this context. Sadly, we cannot simply trust Elections Ontario to get it right. 

In this election, we once again asked the major parties to make election commitments on accessibility issues, including for measures to ensure the accessibility of provincial and municipal elections in Ontario. Below we set out the Ontario Liberal Party's 2007 and 2011 election commitments on elections accessibility. We then set out what the three major parties have promised in this election on the subject of elections accessibility. Finally, at the end of this Update we offer a series of links to other helpful information on this election's disability accessibility issues.

3. Be Sure to Vote!

As a non-partisan disability advocacy coalition, we don't support or oppose any party or candidate. However, we strongly support the importance of everyone voting!

We encourage you to vote at an advance poll or at your local Returning Office in advance of voting day June 12, to ensure maximum accessibility. That will  give you a chance to return on voting day if you are unable to vote in advance due to accessibility barriers.

Voters who need to use an accessible voting machine can vote at their riding's returning office, but only on certain days before June 12. Voters cannot do so on June 12. Contact Elections Ontario to find out on which dates, how, when and where to do this. Those accessible voting machines are designed to accommodate those who cannot independently mark their own ballot due to such causes as vision loss, dyslexia, or an inability to use a pen or pencil to write on the ballot.

If you encounter any voting accessibility barriers, let us know. Be sure to send us your contact information. We cannot ourselves investigate individual incidents, but we can benefit from your experiences as we advocate for reform in this area. Email us at aodafeedback@gmail.com

4. The Accessibility Clock Continues

In other ongoing accessibility news, the accessibility clock relentlessly keeps counting down to 2025, when Ontario must become fully accessible to people with disabilities. A troubling 200 days have now passed since we revealed that the Ontario Government was not enforcing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and that there have been rampant AODA violations in the private sector. The Government still has not made public its promised plan for the AODA's effective enforcement. One hundred and six days have passed since the Toronto Star reported on February 20, 2014 that the Government would be publicly posting that new enforcement plan "in short order."

To read our November 18, 2013 revelation that the Government was failing to effectively enforce the Disabilities Act despite knowing of rampant private sector violations, and funds on hand for enforcement.

To read the Government's February 20, 2014 pledge to publish in "short order" its plan for enforcing the Disabilities Act.

As well, 282 days have passed since the Government unveiled its plans for the legacy of the 2015 Toronto Pan/ParaPan American Games. Yet it has still not released details and specifics of a comprehensive disability accessibility legacy for the Games.

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MORE DETAILS

Toronto Star On-Line June 5, 2014

Voter in wheelchair slams poorly equipped polling station

Frank Pozen says he complained to Elections Ontario last year about the Eighth St. Legion hall, which has an elevator too small to accommodate some wheelchairs and scooters.

Frank Pozen is concerned about the width of the elevator at the Eighth St. Legion. Although his chair can fit on the elevator, Pozen says it is not built to code. The legion has long served as a voting station.

By: Laurie Monsebraaten, Social Justice Reporter
Published on Thu Jun 05 2014

Frank Pozen “speeds around pretty good” in his electric wheelchair since losing the use of his legs in an accident almost 10 years ago.

His polling station at the Eighth St. Legion hall, however, is a problem.

Elections Ontario lists the location as accessible. But the 60-year-old Etobicoke-Lakeshore voter says the elevator to the second-floor banquet hall, where ballots will be cast June 12, is too small to accommodate his “power chair” and many other scooters and electric wheelchairs.

The elevator door is only 33 inches wide, and under Ontario’s Building Code for new construction, the accessibility standard is 36 inches. Although Pozen’s chair can fit through the narrow opening, the elevator’s 47-inch depth leaves him barely five inches of clearance.

Pozen raised the issue with the returning officer during last summer’s byelection and complained to Elections Ontario last week.

“I tried (the elevator) once a few years ago . . . I could barely, barely fit in. I won’t do it again. It’s not safe,” he said.

“They are well aware that it is not adequate. I don’t know why they keep putting (the polling station) here,” he added.

Elections Ontario is aware of the problem, a spokesman said. But the snap election call didn’t give officials enough time to find a reasonable alternative, Andrew Willis said in an email to the Star.

“In instances where a location has qualified for exemption to the standard, it is because there was no available alternative in the district at the time we need it,” he said. “For this reason, we have a range of accessible voting tools and processes, to help ensure that all eligible electors are able to cast their vote privately and securely.”

In an email to Pozen, an unnamed Elections Ontario official said an accessibility information assistant will be posted at the elevator to assist voters. If required, the deputy returning officer can bring the ballot box to the main floor to allow an elector to cast his or her vote, the official added.

Pozen is not impressed. “People who are in my position — disabled people — we don’t like that. It’s embarrassing,” he said.

Elections Ontario has made great strides to make voting more accessible, noted Steven Christianson, of March of Dimes Canada.

“But then they do something like this,” he said. “You can call it an inaccessible polling station or you can call it inadvertent exclusion.”

One way to fix this problem would be to allow telephone and Internet voting, said David Lepofsky, of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) Alliance. But a provincial report on the issue last June said more study is needed.

“No accessibility requirements for elections have been enacted under the AODA,” he said. “Voters with disabilities deserve better.”

At the Legion on Tuesday, where Pozen demonstrated the elevator’s tight fit, longtime manager Kay McDonald wondered what all the fuss is about. Over the years, provincial, federal and municipal elections have all used the Legion as a polling station, she noted.

“It’s accessible. Our veterans in wheelchairs and scooters use that elevator all the time with no problem,” she said.

The elevator may be acceptable for the Legion, Pozen said. But for voting, it’s inadequate, especially for the newer, larger scooters and electric wheelchairs for paraplegics, he said.

“I’m not concerned about myself. I’ll go to the advance poll,” he said. “But what about the quadriplegic who reads that the poll is accessible and arrives only to discover they can’t vote like everyone else?”

May 29, 2015 Email From Frank Pozen to Elections Ontario

I live in Etobicoke-Lakeshore. For the last few elections, the poll has been at the 2nd floor of the Legion hall on Eighth St. This is perceived as accessible because there is an elevator. But the elevator is too small for anyone using a powerchair or scooter. And that means it's not really accessible. When this building was used for last year's by election, I told the returning officer that the elevator is too small and therefore the location is not accessible for those who need it to be accessible. I told her to stop using that building but they have used it again. So what are you going to do about it?

June 1, 2014 Email From Unnamed Person at Elections Ontario to Frank Pozen

Hello Mr. Pozen,

Thank you for your question to Info@ and Susan McMurray about the accessibility of your voting location at the Legion Hall on Eighth Street in Etobicoke-Lakeshore. 

Returning Officers must consider a number of criteria to find the most suitable voting locations.  These criteria include the Election Act requirement that all voting locations are accessible to electors with disabilities, convenience for electors, the location’s capacity, the extent to which electors are likely to be familiar with the location, any significant barriers that electors will encounter in reaching the location and any other factor that may be relevant to the proper conduct of the election.  In addition, we consider whether the locations are used for federal elections, which is the case with the Legion Hall.

We are aware that the elevator door width at the Legion is 33 inches.  As a result of challenges in finding other more accessible voting locations in the area, the Returning Officer requested and was granted the authority to use the location in accordance with our site accessibility standards.  An Accessibility Information Assistant will be posted at the elevator on the main floor to assist any elector who requires assistance to enter the elevator.  The Information Assistant will also be available to have the Deputy Returning Officer bring the ballot box to the main floor to enable an elector to cast his or her vote, if required.  While this is not ideal, given the number of locations needed and the variety of buildings and their limited period of use, we are providing access to the best of our ability.

Voting is also available at advance polls or by special ballot. Advance polls are open for seven days from Saturday, May 31st to Friday, June 6th.  A listing of advance polls is available on our website, printed on every Notice of Registration Card, and available by phone or email.

Alternatively, electors can vote by special ballot in person or by mail, or through home visits under particular circumstances.  In-person special ballot voting takes place in returning offices every day until Wednesday June 11th at 6:00PM.  For voting by mail, an application can be downloaded from our website or mailed to electors on request.  Completed applications must be received by Friday June 6, 2014 at 6:00PM.  Completed write-in ballots must be received by election day, Thursday June 12, 2014 at 6:00 PM.   Information about home visits, which are conducted between now and Wednesday, June 11th, is available from returning offices.

We understand you may be meeting with your local Returning Officer.  Elections Ontario appreciates your feedback about voting locations.  When we review our site accessibility standards after the election, we will be sure to take your concerns into consideration.

Sincerely,

Elections Ontario
51 Rolark Drive
Toronto, Ontario M1R 3B1
E-mail: info@elections.on.ca 
Elections Ontario   www.elections.on.ca 
1.888.668.8683    Fax: 416.326.6210

June 2, 2014 Email from AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky to Elections Ontario

I write on behalf of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, regarding the exchange on which we were copied concerning a Toronto polling station at the Legion Hall on Eighth Street in Etobicoke-Lakeshore.

We are concerned about the accessibility issues raised with this polling station location. Your June 1, 2014 email, copied to us, notes that the 33 inch wide elevator door appears to be a matter of concern to Elections Ontario.

We ask for responses as soon as possible on the following:

1. What steps are you taking to locate the polling station to the ground floor at that location, so that the elevator need not be used?

2. What door width does Elections Ontario use as its standard for accessibility when selecting polling stations?

3. What other locations for polling stations for this part of that riding did Elections Ontario review?

4. Did Elections Ontario consider re-locating this polling station in advance of this election, and subsequent to the last time it was used?

5. Why did Elections Ontario keep using this location, when it was aware of the concern regarding the elevator door width?

6. In Elections Ontario's June 1, 2014 email Elections Ontario states:

"We are aware that the elevator door width at the Legion is 33 inches.  As a result of challenges in finding other more accessible voting locations in the area, the Returning Officer requested and was granted the authority to use the location in accordance with our site accessibility standards."

Who was asked to grant this permission within Elections Ontario? Who in fact granted this permission? What inquiries did he or she make before granting this permission?

May we get an answer to these inquiries, or as many as possible, as quickly as possible, since voting day is fast approaching.

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont
Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

 June 2, 2014 Email from Steven Christianson, on Behalf of the Ontario March of Dimes, to Elections Ontario and the AODA Alliance

Please consider the following in response to the voting Location with a Potential Barrier in the riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore:

This is second class participation and is, frankly, unacceptable. I just did a Google street view search; I find it hard to believe that this -- an inaccessible location -- is the ONLY and BEST location for voting.

Elections Ontario has made available more options to vote than we have ever seen. These are great efforts. But this does not provide an excuse for continued exclusion, notably as regards the elevator door leading to the 2nd floor voting space at the Legion Hall on Eighth Street in Etobicoke.

March of Dimes Canada's Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer, Jerry Lucas, confirms that today's acceptable door width to accommodate most wheelchairs and scooters is 36 inches.  The 33" door in question at the voting station is 3 inches narrower than what is common practice today, and would barely accommodate most motorized mobility devices.

Officials acknowledge the existence of a barrier.  This very acknowledgement should serve as the reason to have eliminated this location from consideration.

Our national office, at 10 Overlea, was used last-minute in the 2010 Toronto election.  Officials from Elections Toronto deemed the previously-used (and familiar-to-voters) location as inaccessible.  They shifted the location to our office.  There was no confusion among voters. There was no decrease in voter turnout. Everyone had a completely accessible space.  And the provincial officials can't make things work?!

At the very least, there should be a task force of inquiry immediately following this election. As long as barriers remain, potential exclusion continues to be part of system.

I look forward to your response.

Steven Christianson, MA | National Manager, Government Relations & Advocacy
March of Dimes Canada 
10 Overlea Blvd.,
Toronto, Ontario M4H 1A4

June 4, 2014 Email to the AODA Alliance from and Unnamed Person at Elections Ontario

Thank you for your email regarding the accessibility of this voting location. This is something we take seriously.

Our Site Accessibility Standards indicate that a door width of 89 cm or 35 inches is preferred.  We accept door widths of 85 cm or 33 inches.  With respect to elevators, we have finetuned our inspection guidelines and have identified 36 inches as the acceptable elevator door width.  If we are not able to identify accessible alternatives, a Customer Service Accessibility Plan would be in place for narrower doors.

The Returning Officer did consider alternative locations, but availability of suitable space within time constraints limited our options. This particular location has been used in federal and municipal elections as well as provincial elections. The banquet room of the Legion is on the 2nd floor which is the space we rent as a voting location to host seven polls. The first floor of the location is a private club open only to members of the Legion and its rooms are small.  As such, it did not meet criteria for a poll location, which is why it was not selected.  However, we are able to use a portion of the first floor to bring the ballot box to any elector who requires that service.

The alternate location for this voting location is the Ken Cox Community Centre on Colonel Samuel Smith Park Drive, which was used in 2011.  Although fully accessible, public transportation along Colonel Samuel Smith Park Drive is limited and many electors complained about the distance they had to walk from north of Lake Shore Blvd. W. to reach the community centre (the Ken Cox Community Centre is 1.7 km from the Legion hall). New Toronto Public Library is nearby and is accessible but it is not large enough to hold the number of polls needed.
Other potential voting locations which were inspected and rejected because they were not accessible were St. Teresa Catholic School, Vincent Massey School and Twentieth St. Jr. School.
In light of these challenges – because there was no available alternative in the district at the time we need it – the location meets our accessibility requirements as we have an accessible customer service plan in place.

We believe accessible customer service is good customer service, and it is something we strive for in all aspects of our business.  We note that, for this reason, we have a range of accessible voting tools and processes, to help ensure that all eligible electors are able to cast their vote privately and securely.

Sincerely,

Elections Ontario
51 Rolark Drive
Toronto, Ontario M1R 3B1
E-mail: info@elections.on.ca 
Elections Ontario   www.elections.on.ca 
1.888.668.8683    Fax: 416.326.6210

What the Parties Have Committed on Elections Accessibility for Voters with Disabilities

Here is what Premier Dalton McGuinty promised about elections accessibility in the 2007 election. In his September 14, 2007 letter to us, setting out the Liberals'  2007 accessibility pledges, he wrote:

"Develop an action plan to make provincial and municipal elections fully accessible to voters.
 
We have just released guides on how to make election communications materials accessible and how to make all candidates meetings accessible. A third guide will be released in October on how to make constituency offices and campaign offices accessible. In addition, we will commit to developing an action plan to make elections fully accessible to voters with disabilities."

Here is what Premier Dalton McGuinty promised persons with disabilities about elections accessibility in the 2011 election. . In his August 19, 2011 letter to us, Dalton McGuinty set out his party's 2011 election pledges to us. This included:

"•         We amended the Election Act to require provincial elections to include:
•           accessible voting equipment and polling locations
•           accessible formats of Elections Ontario publications
•           accessibility training for election officers. 
•           We also amended the Municipal Elections Act to require that all municipal polling stations be accessible to voters with disabilities and that staff be trained on accessibility issues. We recognize that there is more to do, and we will continue to build on our progress when it comes to making municipal and provincial elections more accessible."

In our March 3, 2014 letter to the major parties, seeking their 2014 election pledges on disability accessibility, we wrote:

"E. Ensure Accessibility of Provincial and Municipal Elections

In the 2007 election, your parties committed that if elected, you would implement an accessible elections action plan. In 2010, the current Government brought forward Bill 231 to modernize provincial elections. At that time, we called for that bill to be amended to substantially strengthen provisions to ensure elections accessibility for voters and candidates with disabilities. Both opposition parties commendably supported many, if not most of our proposed amendments. The current Government supported fewer of our proposals.

In 2009, the current Government introduced Bill 212 into the Legislature. Among other things, it required some accessibility improvements for municipal elections.

Those two new Ontario laws did not solve the problem of barriers facing voters with disabilities in provincial and municipal elections. The current Government said its election accessibility action plan would be something in addition to those bills. To date, no elections accessibility action plan has been announced.

During the 2011 election, the current Government committed to further progress in the area of elections accessibility. In his August 19, 2011 letter to the AODA Alliance, then Premier McGuinty pledged: "we will continue to build on our progress when it comes to making municipal and provincial elections more accessible." Since then, we have seen no new steps by the Ontario Government announced to expand the accessibility of provincial or municipal elections.

Accessible telephone and internet voting would increase the accessibility of the voting process for many voters with disabilities. Yet it wrongly remains banned in provincial elections. Elections Ontario has been very resistant to telephone and internet voting. It has refused to test them in any by-elections even though it has had a legislative power to do so since 2012, and earlier committed to be ready to test these options by a 2012 by-election.

At present, at least 44 Ontario municipalities have used telephone and/or internet voting in municipal elections. The practice appears to be spreading at the municipal level.

We ask your Party to commit to:

13. consult with voters with disabilities for three months immediately after a spring 2014 election (or no later than by the end of June 2014, if no spring election is called), and then introduce in the Legislature within 9 months, with a view to passing a bill that comprehensively and effectively addresses accessibility needs of voters and candidates with disabilities in provincial and municipal elections. This bill should, among other things, ensure telephone and internet voting in Ontario elections and by-elections."

Here is what the parties have promised on accessible elections in this campaign:

NDP leader Andrea Horwath made this commitment in her May 12, 2014 letter to the AODA Alliance:

"E. Ensure accessibility of provincial and municipal elections

The Ontario NDP brought forward numerous amendments to Bill 231, the Liberal amendment to the Election Act, which would have strengthened its accessibility provisions. We remain committed to the issues raised and to ensuring full accessibility in elections for both voters and candidates. The NDP would introduce legislation that implements the substantive issues addressed in our amendments to Bill 231."

In her May 14, 2014 letter to the AODA Alliance, Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne wrote:

"E. Ensure accessibility of provincial and municipal elections

13. Ensuring the proper accessibility of the provincial and municipal elections falls in line is a top priority for us to safeguard the interests of Ontarians with disabilities through ease of access to the provincial and municipal elections as does every citizen of Ontario. We will ensure that the Ministry of the Attorney General, Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing and Elections Ontario are committed to providing the best possible services to ensure accessible elections."

In his May 12, 2014 letter to the AODA Alliance on behalf of the Progressive Conservative Party, Tim Hudak wrote:

"There’s no good reason why a person with a disability should not be able to cast a vote in an election. It’s also completely unacceptable that someone should be passed over for a job because of the myth that people with disabilities can’t do the work. We have a moral and social responsibility to change this.

This is why we’re disappointed the current government has not kept its promise with respect to accessibility standards. An Ontario PC government is committed to working with the AODA Alliance to address implementation and enforcement issues when it comes to these standards."

Helpful Links on the 2014 Ontario Election's Disability Accessibility Issues and How to Help Raise Them During the Campaign

To get easy-to-use non-partisan tips on how to raise disability accessibility issues with the candidates during this Ontario election, check out our 2014 Ontario Election Action Kit.

To watch the AODA Alliance's virtual news conference, unveiling the parties' 2014 election  disability accessibility pledges, all made in letters to the AODA Alliance.

To read the Ontario Liberal Party's 2014 election commitments to the AODA Alliance on disability accessibility.

To read the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party's 2014 election commitments to the AODA Alliance on disability accessibility.

To read the Ontario New Democratic Party's 2014 election commitments to the AODA Alliance on disability accessibility.

To read the AODA Alliance's March 3, 2014 letter to the party leaders, setting out the specific disability accessibility commitments in this election that the AODA Alliance seeks.

To read the speaking notes for the AODA Alliance's May 16, 2014 virtual news conference.

To read the AODA Alliance's summary of the three parties' 2014 election commitments on disability accessibility.

To read the AODA Alliance's analysis of the three parties' 2014 commitments on disability accessibility.

To see the records of the Liberals, PCs and NDP on disability accessibility from 1990 to the present.

To see a comparison of the parties' 2011 election disability accessibility commitments.

To see a comparison of the parties' 2007 disability accessibility commitments.

For full background on the ongoing campaign to make Ontario disability-accessible