After the Federal Election, New Opportunities for People with Disabilities in Canada and a Pressing Need for the Media to Take a Hard Look at the Short Shrift It Too Often Gave Disability Issues


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities Web: https://www.aodaalliance.org
Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @aodaalliance
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

September 21, 2021

1. Canada’s Media Must Take a Long Hard Look at Its Troubling Treatment of Disability Election Issues

We can be proud that we and the disability community managed to get more media coverage of at least some of this election’s disability issues than we have ever achieved in the past. As discussed further below, these issues got nowhere near the attention they deserve. However, the media coverage of them in the 2015 and 2019 federal elections was even worse. Very slowly we are making progress.

Canada’s media now needs to take a long and hard look at its troubling approach to disability issues, especially during an election. Six million people with disabilities in Canada matter and deserve better.

Some news outlets did not cover disability issues at all, as far as we have been able to tell. CBC gave the issue some coverage, but only over the past few days before the election.

For example, it was not until 2 pm on Sunday, September 19, 2021, the last day before the election, that CBC posted a specific report comparing the platforms of the parties on disability issues. We set that story out below. By that time, some six million voters had voted by mail or at advance polls. If it was newsworthy then, it was equally newsworthy weeks earlier.

A stunning illustration of the short shrift some media gave disability election issues concerns the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail. On September 14, 2021, both newspapers commendably printed a Canadian Press report on the fact that the mail-in ballot was inaccessible for voters with vision loss. However, the original CP story included a passage on the fact that of all the major parties, only the NDP had responded to the AODA Alliance’s request for accessibility pledges. Yet both the Globe and the Star cut that important paragraph right out of that story. Here is the pivotal information that both the Star and Globe decided was not newsworthy enough for their readers:

” Lepofsky, who is the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said his group sent a letter last month to all main federal parties asking for 12 commitments on accessibility, including one on accessibility of the electoral process.

“Only one leader has answered us. And that is (NDP Leader) Jagmeet Singh,” he said.

“We don’t support anyone or oppose anyone. We try to get the strongest commitments we can, but we have not even gotten an answer from (Liberal Leader) Justin Trudeau or (Conservative Leader) Erin O’Toole.””

Below, we set out the September 13, 2021 CP report in full published by the Chat News website, and the edited version that the Globe and Mail published.

We know of no reporter who pressed party leaders on their failure to answer our request for election commitments on accessibility.

Late in the campaign, a number of reporters who spoke to the AODA Alliance about disability issues in the election commented that this is an important story, and it is too bad they had not known of it earlier. Yet we sent several news releases to the media during the election campaign, as no doubt did other disability organizations.

2. Voting Barriers Must Go

Voting barriers impeding voters with disabilities were even worse in this election than in the past. Because of COVID-19, more voters wanted to resort to the mail-in ballot. Yet the mail-in ballot lacks accessibility for voters with disabilities like vision loss who cannot mark their own ballot in secret and verify their choice.

Moreover, the reduction in the number of polling stations per riding in this election meant further distances to travel and longer lineups for voters. This obviously generates more voting barriers for voters with disabilities, such as those facing public transit barriers, and those who lack the stamina to stay in a long lineup for a long time.

This was covered in Karlene Nation’s interview with AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky on voting day September 20, 2021 on Sauga Radio in Mississauga. Below we set out a September 20, 2021 article from CBC News that reported on long lineups, fewer polling stations, and barriers facing voters with disabilities.

That CBC report incorrectly states:

” Lepofsky said accessibility was not considered by Elections Canada at polling stations.”

What AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky had said is that Elections Canada does not have a record of ensuring accessibility for voters with disabilities at polling stations.

In its August 3, 2021 letter, the AODA Alliance asked the major parties to commit to election reform to make federal elections accessible for voters with disabilities. Only the NDP agreed to this or even replied.

3. What’s Next on the Federal Front

For many, the election’s outcome is frustrating. For us disability advocates, it presents new opportunities. We always are ready to work with any and all parties in our spirit of non-partisanship.

In Canada’s new Parliament, we aim to urge the NDP to act on its commitments to us. Even though no other party answered our August 3, 2021 letter, seeking election pledges, we intend to ask Erin O’Toole to stand by the Conservative Party’s 2018 commitment in the House of Commons to strengthen the Accessible Canada Act, if elected. Stay tuned.

4. And It’s Time to Focus Again on Provincial Issues in Ontario

With the federal election behind us, we will now turn prime attention to accessibility battles on the provincial front. Will the new COVID-19 vaccine be disability-accessible? Is the return to school treating students with disabilities better than in the past? With the fourth COVID-19 wave upon us, will the Ford Government eliminate the disability discrimination that seriously infects the critical care triage protocol that has been embedded in Ontario hospitals since January? Here again, stay tuned!

MORE DETAILS

CBC News September 20, 2021

Originally posted at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/long-lines-polling-stations-toronto-1.6182540 GTA voters contend with long lines, missing voter lists as election day draws to a close

Many ridings had significantly fewer polling stations than last election

Voters at a University-Rosedale polling station on Monday. Some people reported it had been a busy, and at times frustrating day for voters in the city. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Some frustrated voters at polling stations across the Greater Toronto Area on Monday found themselves dealing with long queues as they attempted to cast their ballots.

Lines outside polling stations, which closed at 9:30 p.m. ET, were longer this year in some cases due to COVID-19 precautions, logistical errors in voter ID cards and lists and a greatly reduced number of polling stations for some ridings.

In some cases, long lines stretched well into the evening.

At a polling station in King-Vaughan, voters reported a lineup of more than two hours and very little parking.

Aaron Kaufman, who lives in the area, said he gave up trying to vote because the line was so long and he had trouble finding parking shortly before 8 p.m. He never got out of his car but rolled down his window. People on the sidewalk told him not to bother trying to vote, he said.

“It was more than a long lineup. It was absolutely ridiculous,” Kaufman said after the polls closed on Monday night.

“The lineup for the actual polling station went around a giant sportsplex, across the street, around another building, and down the off ramp to the 400 Highway.”

Staff Sgt. Dave Mitchell of York Regional Police said there was a surge of voters at a polling station at 601 Cityview Blvd. in the Teston Road and Highway 400 area near Canada’s Wonderland before 8 p.m.

An estimated 1,500 to 2,000 people tried to vote at that time, he said.

Mitchell said some people, in an effort to find parking, were getting out of their vehicles on the off ramp of Highway 400 at Teston Road and walking up on the ramp.

Kaufman said the experience left him angry. Not enough planning and thought went into the logistics of voting, he said.

“It’s unacceptable, to be honest in a country like ours, the organization around voting was so poor that people couldn’t even make their voice heard.”

King-Vaughan had 28 fewer polling locations than in 2019, which was a 62 per cent drop in locations.

Earlier Monday at the Bentway polling station for Spadina-Fort York, voters lined up for about an hour or more before they got in, but the balmy weather helped keep frustrations at bay.

“It’s fine, I was able to take some work calls in line, [it’s] not too bad. The weather’s pretty nice, been waiting for about an hour,” one voter at the Bentway polling station said.

“We’re all outside, so that makes me feel good. People are reasonable.”

A polling station at Oriole Park Public School, like many across Toronto, had long queues for most of the day, frustrating some voters.

Some ridings have fewer polling stations this year

It’s important to note that some electoral districts in the Greater Toronto Area have remarkably fewer polling stations than they did in the 2019 federal election.

Toronto Centre had 91 in 2019, and has 15 polling stations this year. Spadina-Fort York had 56, but has 15 today. Those are the two ridings with the largest decrease in polling stations at 84 per cent and 73 per cent fewer than the last election, respectively.

In York Region, Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill went from 39 to 12, and in Peel Region, Brampton East and Mississauga-Malton are down to 12 and 15 stations from 26 and 31, respectively, in 2019.

Elections Canada website errors

Several people also reported being unable to locate their polling station on the Elections Canada website Monday.

“A message comes up saying they aren’t able to find my polling station,” Daniel Mustard said. “It then asks you to call a 1-800 number to speak to an agent, but when I did that the agency also can’t find the address.”

“I’m lucky as I have all day to figure this out and vote. Others who may not be as keen might give up at this point,” Mustard added.

Others who chose to vote by mail were experiencing similar frustrations. Barbara Allemeersch said she only received her ballot on Friday afternoon and was questioning whether her returned vote will be received in time. Mail-in votes had to be received by 6 p.m. Monday.

Elections Canada responded on Twitter to the numerous complaints and concerns of voters being unable to find their polling station.

“Please note that we are experiencing technical difficulties with the Voter Information Service application on our website,” the agency said in a tweet on Monday morning. “Please check your voter information card or call us at 1-800-463-6868 to find your assigned polling location.”

A couple of hours later that was followed by a tweet saying the online information system was back online.

Elderly, people with disabilities face obstacles

Meanwhile, advocates for seniors and people with disabilities also said they believe there could have been a drop in voter turnout in their communities this year due to accessibility issues and a lack of aid available due to the pandemic.

Laura Tamblyn Watts, the CEO of CanAge, a national seniors’ advocacy organization, said while Elections Canada had done as “much as possible” this year to ensure seniors were provided for at polling stations, “that doesn’t mean that seniors are able to get to polling stations easier.”

Many community and aid organizations, as well as political parties, were not offering seniors transport to polling stations this year due to the pandemic, she said. That, coupled with the fact that many seniors are reluctant to enter large group settings right now, will likely mean a drop in older voters this year, Tamblyn Watts said.

“Eighty per cent of all seniors vote in every election, but I think this year the barriers to voting are so significant that we will see a shift in voting patterns,” she said.

David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said it could be a similar story for his community.

Lepofsky, who is blind, said Canada had “never had properly accessible elections for Canadians with disabilities,” and this year was no exception.

“The private, secret ballot is a sacred thing. The ability to mark your own ballot in private and not to have to tell anyone else who you’ve voted for and to be able to verify that it’s been marked correctly is fundamental to a democracy and yet as a blind person, I don’t have that right in Canada,” he said.

Lepofsky said accessibility was not considered by Elections Canada at polling stations. While mail-in votes offered an alternative, many still relied on loved ones to fill out their ballots for them.

“If people have any disability that relates to marking your own ballet, if it’s a paper ballot, you’ve got a terrible choice: either go to a polling station where you face barriers or use a mail-in ballot where you face barriers.”

“For any number of people with disabilities in Canada we do not have barrier-free, accessible voting and we do not have a plan in place to get us there.”

With files from Ali Raza, Ashleigh Stewart, Muriel Draaisma and Chris Glover

CBC News September 19, 2021

Originally posted at https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/ask-party-promises-people-with-disabilities-1.6180063

What the parties have promised for people with disabilities

CBC News Loaded
Politics
ASK CBC NEWS

What the main political parties are pledging to do for the disabilities community Tyler Bloomfield
CBC News
Posted: Sep 19, 2021 2:00 PM ET |

A taxi cab loads a walker into a wheelchair accessible van cab in Vancouver. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

This story idea came from an audience member, like you, who got in touch with us. Send us your questions and story tips. We are listening: [email protected]

Advocates for Canadians with disabilities say they feel like their needs have not been a priority for the major political parties as campaigns draw to a close.

Priorities for millions of Canadians with disabilities left out of election campaign, say advocates
??That could leave just over 1 in 5 Canadians on the outside looking in. There are more than six million Canadians aged 15 and over who say they have a disability, according to Statistics Canada. And the actual numbers could be even higher.

Ask CBC News heard from some of those Canadians and family members of those Canadians. They wanted to know what specifically the major political parties are promising for people with disabilities.

What the parties are promising

It’s worth noting that each party has a number of different platform planks that may not be covered below, many of which would affect all Canadians, including people with disabilities. With this in mind, here’s what each of the parties’ platforms say explicitly about some of the issues important to the disability community.

Liberals

If re-elected, the Liberals promise to reintroduce a Disability Benefit Act that will create a direct monthly payment for low-income Canadians with disabilities and between the ages of 18 to 64. They say the new benefit will reduce disability poverty, by using the same approach they took with the Guaranteed Income Supplement and the Canada Child Benefit.

The Liberals say in the Disability Statement in their platform that they “have moved to a human rights-based approach to disability inclusion and are moving away from the medical and charity models, to a social model of disability and a focus on poverty reduction.”

They also point to the fact that during their time in office they have established Accessible Standards Canada, appointed Canada’s first minister responsible for disability inclusion. As well as making investments in disability-specific programs, including the Opportunities Fund, Enabling Accessibility Fund, the Ready, Willing & Able inclusive hiring program ??and Canada Student Grants for people with disabilities.

A Liberal government also promises a “robust employment strategy for Canadians with disabilities,” focused on support for workers and employers to create “inclusive and welcoming workplaces.”

They also say they are in the process of consulting the disability community to implement a Disability Inclusion Action Plan.

Conservatives

The Conservatives promise to double the Disability Supplement in the Canada Workers Benefit to $1,500, from $713. They are also committing to ensuring that going to work never costs a disabled person money, saying they want to work with the provinces to be sure that programs are designed to “ensure that working always leaves someone further ahead.”

They say in their platform that they will boost the Enabling Accessibility Fund with an additional $80 million per year to provide incentives for small business and community projects to improve accessibility, grants and support for accessibility equipment that disabled Canadians need to work. They say that would be on top of “enhancements to existing programs that will get more disabled Canadians into the workforce.”

The Conservatives want to make it easier to qualify for the Disability Tax Credit (DTC) and the Registered Disability Savings Plan. Conservatives say their changes to the DTC will save a qualifying person with disabilities an average of $2,100 per year.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole breaks down part of his party’s plan to help Canadians with disabilities during a campaign stop in Edmonton. 1:06

NDP

The New Democrats promise to uphold the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and to strengthen the Accessibility Act to empower all federal agencies to make and enforce accessibility standards in a timely manner.

For income security, the NDP says it wants to expand support programs to ensure Canadians living with a disability have a guaranteed livable income, and to work to deliver a new federal disability benefit “immediately.” The party says this benefit would come in at $2,200 per month.

In its platform, the party promises to extend Employment Insurance (EI) sickness benefits to 50 weeks of coverage, to allow workers with episodic disabilities to access benefits as needed and to expand employment programs to ensure quality job opportunities are available.

On the issue of accessible housing, the NDP says it will create “affordable, accessible housing in communities across the country.”

For people with disabilities, it’s also worth noting the NDP platform includes a publicly funded national pharmacare and dental care program, a national autism strategy and a commitment to restore door-to-door mail delivery.

Laura Beaudin, a student, single mother and disabled Canadian asks NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh about his plan to support people with disabilities during CBC The National’s Face to Face series. 1:11

Bloc Québécois

While there are no specific plans to specifically support people with disabilities laid out in the Bloc Québécois platform, some of its other policies might offer some relief to the community. For example, the Bloc has been vocal about wanting to establish its own standards for long-term care.

People’s Party of Canada

The people’s party of Canada doesn’t have much in their platform that pertains to people with disabilities, but it does offer some promises to veterans with disabilities.

It says it wants to “reinstate the fair disability pension as previously provided for by the Pension Act. The pension will apply retroactively to 2006 and lump sum payments received since then will be treated as advance payments.”

Green Party

A Green government promises to create a Canada Disabilities Act and to support a national equipment fund to provide accessibility tools to help persons with disabilities.

When it comes to accessible housing, the platform says the party will “invest in adaptable social housing to meet particular needs, with both rental and purchase options.”

The Greens say they are willing to work with the provinces on disability issues as well. They say they will provide federal health transfer payments to provinces and territories directed to rehabilitation for those who have become disabled. They also suggest their equipment fund could be a joint program with provinces, for the sake of “equal access and common standards.”

For income support for Canadians with disabilities, the Green Party wants to institute a guaranteed livable income to lift anyone living with disabilities out of poverty. They are also committed to enforcing the Employment Equity Act, converting the Disability Tax Credit (DTC) to a refundable credit and redesigning the Canada Pension Plan/Disability Benefit to incorporate the DTC definition of disability and permit employment.

The Globe and Mail September 14, 2021
News

Lawyer says lack of accessible, private voting options a violation of Charter

THE CANADIAN PRESS
OTTAWA

David Lepofsky was not able to mark his choice independently on the mail-in ballot Elections Canada sent to him because he is blind.

He opted to not vote in person with his wife because she has a serious immune limitation and they don’t want to risk being infected with COVID-19.

Mr. Lepofsky, who is a lawyer advocating for accessibility for disabled people, said the voting options available for blind people don’t allow them to cast their ballots privately.

He said the lack of accessible voting options is a violation of Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which requires equal protection and benefit of the law to those living with mental or physical disabilities.

“This is just awful,” he said in an interview with The Canadian Press. “The basic right we’re all supposed to enjoy is the right to mark our own ballot in private and to mark it independently, or ourselves, and to be able to verify this mark the way we want. And I currently don’t have that as a blind person at the federal level.”

Elections Canada responded to his complaint on Twitter on Sunday, saying the agency recognizes “the special ballot process is not ideal for an elector who is unable to mark their ballot independently.”

Mr. Lepofsky said the other option of voting in-person at a polling station also would not allow him to vote in private because an Elections Canada officer would have to read and verify his voting choice.

An Elections Canada spokesperson said those who provide assistance to voters must take oaths to protect the secrecy of those ballots.

“In the case of a poll worker, oaths are taken as part of the job when they provide assistance to an elector,” Matthew McKenna said in a statement.

Chat News Today September 13, 2021

Originally posted at https://chatnewstoday.ca/2021/09/13/blind-lawyer-says-lack-of-accessible-private-voting-options-violates-charter/

Blind lawyer says lack of accessible, private voting options violates Charter

Maan Alhmidi
The Canadian Press
SEPTEMBER 13, 2021 01:31 PM

A mail-in voting package that voters will receive if requested is seen in Calgary, Alta

OTTAWA David Lepofsky was not able to mark his choice independently on the mail-in ballot Elections Canada sent to him because he is blind.

He opted to not vote in person with his wife because she has a serious immune limitation and they don’t want to risk being infected with COVID-19.

Lepofsky, who is a lawyer advocating for accessibility for disabled people, said the voting options available for blind people don’t allow them to cast their ballots privately.

He said the lack of accessible voting options is a violation of section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which requires equal protection and benefit of the law to those living with mental or physical disabilities.

“This is just awful,” he said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“The basic right we’re all supposed to enjoy is the right to mark our own ballot in private and to mark it independently, or ourselves, and to be able to verify this mark the way we want. And I currently don’t have that as a blind person at the federal level.”

Elections Canada responded to his complaint on Twitter on Sunday saying the agency recognizes “the special ballot process is not ideal for an elector who is unable to mark their ballot independently.”

Lepofsky said describing the situation as being “not ideal” is an “offensive understatement” because the mail-in ballots are not accessible.

He said the other option of voting in-person at a polling station also would not allow him to vote in private because an Elections Canada officer would have to read and verify his voting choice.

An Elections Canada spokesperson said those who provide assistance to voters must take oaths to protect the secrecy of those ballots.

“In the case of a poll worker, oaths are taken as part of the job when they provide assistance to an elector,” Matthew McKenna said in a statement.

According to Statistics Canada, about three per cent of Canadians aged 15 years and older, or about 750,000 people, have a seeing disability that limits their daily activities and 5.8 per cent of this group are legally blind.

Lepofsky, who is the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said his group sent a letter last month to all main federal parties asking for 12 commitments on accessibility, including one on accessibility of the electoral process.

“Only one leader has answered us. And that is (NDP Leader) Jagmeet Singh,” he said.

“We don’t support anyone or oppose anyone. We try to get the strongest commitments we can, but we have not even gotten an answer from (Liberal Leader) Justin Trudeau or (Conservative Leader) Erin O’Toole.”

He said there should be voting options at the federal level for people with disabilities that allow them to vote without needing help from anyone. He said voting by phone through an automated system can be a good option.

“In New Zealand, they have a phone-in ballot which is not internet-connected. That’s available for voters with vision loss. There are different options around the world but we are lagging way behind,” he said.

“We’re in the dark ages.”

Last year, Elections BC provided a telephone voting option for voters who are unable to vote independently, including people who have vision loss, those who have a disability or an underlying health condition that prevents them from voting independently and those who were self-isolating during the last week of the campaign and unable to vote by mail.

McKenna said introducing other voting options requires a law change.

“Changes to the way Canadians vote, including telephone voting, would in almost all cases require authorization from Parliament, typically in the form of legislative change,” he said.

“When assessing new voting processes or services, we undertake significant planning and testing to ensure that the new option is accessible, and that the confidentiality, secrecy, reliability and integrity of the vote are preserved.”

Mr. Lepofsky said there should be voting options at the federal level for people with disabilities that allow them to vote without needing help from anyone. He said voting by phone through an automated system can be a good option.

“In New Zealand, they have a phone-in ballot which is not internet-connected. That’s available for voters with vision loss. There are different options around the world but we are lagging way behind,” he said.

“We’re in the dark ages.”




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After the Federal Election, New Opportunities for People with Disabilities in Canada and a Pressing Need for the Media to Take a Hard Look at the Short Shrift It Too Often Gave Disability Issues


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

Web: www.aodaalliance.org

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @aodaalliance

Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

After the Federal Election, New Opportunities for People with Disabilities in Canada and a Pressing Need for the Media to Take a Hard Look at the Short Shrift It Too Often Gave Disability Issues

September 21, 2021

1. Canada’s Media Must Take a Long Hard Look at Its Troubling Treatment of Disability Election Issues

We can be proud that we and the disability community managed to get more media coverage of at least some of this election’s disability issues than we have ever achieved in the past. As discussed further below, these issues got nowhere near the attention they deserve. However, the media coverage of them in the 2015 and 2019 federal elections was even worse. Very slowly we are making progress.

Canada’s media now needs to take a long and hard look at its troubling approach to disability issues, especially during an election. Six million people with disabilities in Canada matter and deserve better.

Some news outlets did not cover disability issues at all, as far as we have been able to tell. CBC gave the issue some coverage, but only over the past few days before the election.

For example, it was not until 2 pm on Sunday, September 19, 2021, the last day before the election, that CBC posted a specific report comparing the platforms of the parties on disability issues. We set that story out below. By that time, some six million voters had voted by mail or at advance polls. If it was newsworthy then, it was equally newsworthy weeks earlier.

A stunning illustration of the short shrift some media gave disability election issues concerns the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail. On September 14, 2021, both newspapers commendably printed a Canadian Press report on the fact that the mail-in ballot was inaccessible for voters with vision loss. However, the original CP story included a passage on the fact that of all the major parties, only the NDP had responded to the AODA Alliance’s request for accessibility pledges. Yet both the Globe and the Star cut that important paragraph right out of that story. Here is the pivotal information that both the Star and Globe decided was not newsworthy enough for their readers:

” Lepofsky, who is the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said his group sent a letter last month to all main federal parties asking for 12 commitments on accessibility, including one on accessibility of the electoral process.

“Only one leader has answered us. And that is (NDP Leader) Jagmeet Singh,” he said.

“We don’t support anyone or oppose anyone. We try to get the strongest commitments we can, but we have not even gotten an answer from (Liberal Leader) Justin Trudeau or (Conservative Leader) Erin O’Toole.””

Below, we set out the September 13, 2021 CP report in full published by the Chat News website, and the edited version that the Globe and Mail published.

We know of no reporter who pressed party leaders on their failure to answer our request for election commitments on accessibility.

Late in the campaign, a number of reporters who spoke to the AODA Alliance about disability issues in the election commented that this is an important story, and it is too bad they had not known of it earlier. Yet we sent several news releases to the media during the election campaign, as no doubt did other disability organizations.

2. Voting Barriers Must Go

Voting barriers impeding voters with disabilities were even worse in this election than in the past. Because of COVID-19, more voters wanted to resort to the mail-in ballot. Yet the mail-in ballot lacks accessibility for voters with disabilities like vision loss who cannot mark their own ballot in secret and verify their choice.

Moreover, the reduction in the number of polling stations per riding in this election meant further distances to travel and longer lineups for voters. This obviously generates more voting barriers for voters with disabilities, such as those facing public transit barriers, and those who lack the stamina to stay in a long lineup for a long time.

This was covered in Karlene Nation’s interview with AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky on voting day September 20, 2021 on Sauga Radio in Mississauga. Below we set out a September 20, 2021 article from CBC News that reported on long lineups, fewer polling stations, and barriers facing voters with disabilities.

That CBC report incorrectly states:

” Lepofsky said accessibility was not considered by Elections Canada at polling stations.”

What AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky had said is that Elections Canada does not have a record of ensuring accessibility for voters with disabilities at polling stations.

In its August 3, 2021 letter, the AODA Alliance asked the major parties to commit to election reform to make federal elections accessible for voters with disabilities. Only the NDP agreed to this or even replied.

 3. What’s Next on the Federal Front

For many, the election’s outcome is frustrating. For us disability advocates, it presents new opportunities. We always are ready to work with any and all parties in our spirit of non-partisanship.

In Canada’s new Parliament, we aim to urge the NDP to act on its commitments to us. Even though no other party answered our August 3, 2021 letter, seeking election pledges, we intend to ask Erin O’Toole to stand by the Conservative Party’s 2018 commitment in the House of Commons to strengthen the Accessible Canada Act, if elected. Stay tuned.

4. And It’s Time to Focus Again on Provincial Issues in Ontario

With the federal election behind us, we will now turn prime attention to accessibility battles on the provincial front. Will the new COVID-19 vaccine be disability-accessible? Is the return to school treating students with disabilities better than in the past? With the fourth COVID-19 wave upon us, will the Ford Government eliminate the disability discrimination that seriously infects the critical care triage protocol that has been embedded in Ontario hospitals since January? Here again, stay tuned!

MORE DETAILS

CBC News September 20, 2021

Originally posted at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/long-lines-polling-stations-toronto-1.6182540

 

GTA voters contend with long lines, missing voter lists as election day draws to a close

Many ridings had significantly fewer polling stations than last election

Voters at a University-Rosedale polling station on Monday. Some people reported it had been a busy, and at times frustrating day for voters in the city. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Some frustrated voters at polling stations across the Greater Toronto Area on Monday found themselves dealing with long queues as they attempted to cast their ballots.

Lines outside polling stations, which closed at 9:30 p.m. ET, were longer this year in some cases due to COVID-19 precautions, logistical errors in voter ID cards and lists and a greatly reduced number of polling stations for some ridings.

In some cases, long lines stretched well into the evening.

At a polling station in King-Vaughan, voters reported a lineup of more than two hours and very little parking.

Aaron Kaufman, who lives in the area, said he gave up trying to vote because the line was so long and he had trouble finding parking shortly before 8 p.m. He never got out of his car but rolled down his window. People on the sidewalk told him not to bother trying to vote, he said.

“It was more than a long lineup. It was absolutely ridiculous,” Kaufman said after the polls closed on Monday night.

“The lineup for the actual polling station went around a giant sportsplex, across the street, around another building, and down the off ramp to the 400 Highway.”

Staff Sgt. Dave Mitchell of York Regional Police said there was a surge of voters at a polling station at 601 Cityview Blvd. in the Teston Road and Highway 400 area near Canada’s Wonderland before 8 p.m.

An estimated 1,500 to 2,000 people tried to vote at that time, he said.

Mitchell said some people, in an effort to find parking, were getting out of their vehicles on the off ramp of Highway 400 at Teston Road and walking up on the ramp.

Kaufman said the experience left him angry. Not enough planning and thought went into the logistics of voting, he said.

“It’s unacceptable, to be honest in a country like ours, the organization around voting was so poor that people couldn’t even make their voice heard.”

King-Vaughan had 28 fewer polling locations than in 2019, which was a 62 per cent drop in locations.

Earlier Monday at the Bentway polling station for Spadina-Fort York, voters lined up for about an hour or more before they got in, but the balmy weather helped keep frustrations at bay.

“It’s fine, I was able to take some work calls in line, [it’s] not too bad. The weather’s pretty nice, been waiting for about an hour,” one voter at the Bentway polling station said.

“We’re all outside, so that makes me feel good. People are reasonable.”

A polling station at Oriole Park Public School, like many across Toronto, had long queues for most of the day, frustrating some voters.

Some ridings have fewer polling stations this year

It’s important to note that some electoral districts in the Greater Toronto Area have remarkably fewer polling stations than they did in the 2019 federal election.

Toronto Centre had 91 in 2019, and has 15 polling stations this year. Spadina-Fort York had 56, but has 15 today. Those are the two ridings with the largest decrease in polling stations at 84 per cent and 73 per cent fewer than the last election, respectively.

In York Region, Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill went from 39 to 12, and in Peel Region, Brampton East and Mississauga-Malton are down to 12 and 15 stations from 26 and 31, respectively, in 2019.

Elections Canada website errors

 

Several people also reported being unable to locate their polling station on the Elections Canada website Monday.

“A message comes up saying they aren’t able to find my polling station,” Daniel Mustard said. “It then asks you to call a 1-800 number to speak to an agent, but when I did that the agency also can’t find the address.”

“I’m lucky as I have all day to figure this out and vote. Others who may not be as keen might give up at this point,” Mustard added.

Others who chose to vote by mail were experiencing similar frustrations. Barbara Allemeersch said she only received her ballot on Friday afternoon and was questioning whether her returned vote will be received in time. Mail-in votes had to be received by 6 p.m. Monday.

Elections Canada responded on Twitter to the numerous complaints and concerns of voters being unable to find their polling station.

“Please note that we are experiencing technical difficulties with the Voter Information Service application on our website,” the agency said in a tweet on Monday morning. “Please check your voter information card or call us at 1-800-463-6868 to find your assigned polling location.”

A couple of hours later that was followed by a tweet saying the online information system was back online.

Elderly, people with disabilities face obstacles

 

Meanwhile, advocates for seniors and people with disabilities also said they believe there could have been a drop in voter turnout in their communities this year due to accessibility issues and a lack of aid available due to the pandemic.

Laura Tamblyn Watts, the CEO of CanAge, a national seniors’ advocacy organization, said while Elections Canada had done as “much as possible” this year to ensure seniors were provided for at polling stations, “that doesn’t mean that seniors are able to get to polling stations easier.”

Many community and aid organizations, as well as political parties, were not offering seniors transport to polling stations this year due to the pandemic, she said. That, coupled with the fact that many seniors are reluctant to enter large group settings right now, will likely mean a drop in older voters this year, Tamblyn Watts said.

“Eighty per cent of all seniors vote in every election, but I think this year the barriers to voting are so significant that we will see a shift in voting patterns,” she said.

David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said it could be a similar story for his community.

Lepofsky, who is blind, said Canada had “never had properly accessible elections for Canadians with disabilities,” and this year was no exception.

“The private, secret ballot is a sacred thing. The ability to mark your own ballot in private and not to have to tell anyone else who you’ve voted for and to be able to verify that it’s been marked correctly is fundamental to a democracy and yet as a blind person, I don’t have that right in Canada,” he said.

Lepofsky said accessibility was not considered by Elections Canada at polling stations. While mail-in votes offered an alternative, many still relied on loved ones to fill out their ballots for them.

“If people have any disability that relates to marking your own ballet, if it’s a paper ballot, you’ve got a terrible choice: either go to a polling station where you face barriers or use a mail-in ballot where you face barriers.”

“For any number of people with disabilities in Canada we do not have barrier-free, accessible voting and we do not have a plan in place to get us there.”

With files from Ali Raza, Ashleigh Stewart, Muriel Draaisma and Chris Glover

CBC News September 19, 2021

Originally posted at https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/ask-party-promises-people-with-disabilities-1.6180063

What the parties have promised for people with disabilities

CBC News Loaded

Politics

ASK CBC NEWS

What the main political parties are pledging to do for the disabilities community

Tyler Bloomfield

CBC News

Posted: Sep 19, 2021 2:00 PM ET |

A taxi cab loads a walker into a wheelchair accessible van cab in Vancouver. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

This story idea came from an audience member, like you, who got in touch with us. Send us your questions and story tips. We are listening: [email protected]

Advocates for Canadians with disabilities say they feel like their needs have not been a priority for the major political parties as campaigns draw to a close.

Priorities for millions of Canadians with disabilities ‘left out’ of election campaign, say advocates

​​That could leave just over 1 in 5 Canadians on the outside looking in. There are more than six million Canadians aged 15 and over who say they have a disability, according to Statistics Canada. And the actual numbers could be even higher.

Ask CBC News heard from some of those Canadians and family members of those Canadians. They wanted to know what specifically the major political parties are promising for people with disabilities.

What the parties are promising

It’s worth noting that each party has a number of different platform planks that may not be covered below, many of which would affect all Canadians, including people with disabilities. With this in mind, here’s what each of the parties’ platforms say explicitly about some of the issues important to the disability community.

Liberals

If re-elected, the Liberals promise to reintroduce a Disability Benefit Act that will create a direct monthly payment for low-income Canadians with disabilities and between the ages of 18 to 64. They say the new benefit will reduce disability poverty, by using the same approach they took with the Guaranteed Income Supplement and the Canada Child Benefit.

The Liberals say in the Disability Statement in their platform that they “have moved to a human rights-based approach to disability inclusion and are moving away from the medical and charity models, to a social model of disability and a focus on poverty reduction.”

They also point to the fact that during their time in office they have established Accessible Standards Canada, appointed Canada’s first minister responsible for disability inclusion. As well as making investments in disability-specific programs, including the Opportunities Fund, Enabling Accessibility Fund, the Ready, Willing & Able inclusive hiring program ​​and Canada Student Grants for people with disabilities.

A Liberal government also promises a “robust employment strategy for Canadians with disabilities,” focused on support for workers and employers to create “inclusive and welcoming workplaces.”

They also say they are in the process of consulting the disability community to implement a Disability Inclusion Action Plan.

Conservatives

The Conservatives promise to double the Disability Supplement in the Canada Workers Benefit to $1,500, from $713. They are also committing to ensuring that going to work never costs a disabled person money, saying they want to work with the provinces to be sure that programs are designed to “ensure that working always leaves someone further ahead.”

They say in their platform that they will boost the Enabling Accessibility Fund with an additional $80 million per year to provide incentives for small business and community projects to improve accessibility, grants and support for accessibility equipment that disabled Canadians need to work. They say that would be on top of “enhancements to existing programs that will get more disabled Canadians into the workforce.”

The Conservatives want to make it easier to qualify for the Disability Tax Credit (DTC) and the Registered Disability Savings Plan. Conservatives say their changes to the DTC will save a qualifying person with disabilities an average of $2,100 per year.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole breaks down part of his party’s plan to help Canadians with disabilities during a campaign stop in Edmonton. 1:06

NDP

 

The New Democrats promise to uphold the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and to strengthen the Accessibility Act to empower all federal agencies to make and enforce accessibility standards in a timely manner.

For income security, the NDP says it wants to expand support programs to ensure Canadians living with a disability have a guaranteed livable income, and to work to deliver a new federal disability benefit “immediately.” The party says this benefit would come in at $2,200 per month.

In its platform, the party promises to extend Employment Insurance (EI) sickness benefits to 50 weeks of coverage, to allow workers with episodic disabilities to access benefits as needed and to expand employment programs to ensure quality job opportunities are available.

On the issue of accessible housing, the NDP says it will create “affordable, accessible housing in communities across the country.”

For people with disabilities, it’s also worth noting the NDP platform includes a publicly funded national pharmacare and dental care program, a national autism strategy and a commitment to restore door-to-door mail delivery.

Laura Beaudin, a student, single mother and disabled Canadian asks NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh about his plan to support people with disabilities during CBC The National’s Face to Face series. 1:11

Bloc Québécois

 

While there are no specific plans to specifically support people with disabilities laid out in the Bloc Québécois platform, some of its other policies might offer some relief to the community. For example, the Bloc has been vocal about wanting to establish its own standards for long-term care.

People’s Party of Canada

 

The people’s party of Canada doesn’t have much in their platform that pertains to people with disabilities, but it does offer some promises to veterans with disabilities.

It says it wants to “reinstate the fair disability pension as previously provided for by the Pension Act. The pension will apply retroactively to 2006 and lump sum payments received since then will be treated as advance payments.”

Green Party

 

A Green government promises to create a Canada Disabilities Act and to support a national equipment fund to provide accessibility tools to help persons with disabilities.

When it comes to accessible housing, the platform says the party will “invest in adaptable social housing to meet particular needs, with both rental and purchase options.”

The Greens say they are willing to work with the provinces on disability issues as well. They say they will provide federal health transfer payments to provinces and territories directed to rehabilitation for those who have become disabled. They also suggest their equipment fund could be a joint program with provinces, for the sake of “equal access and common standards.”

For income support for Canadians with disabilities, the Green Party wants to institute a guaranteed livable income to lift anyone living with disabilities out of poverty. They are also committed to enforcing the Employment Equity Act, converting the Disability Tax Credit (DTC) to a refundable credit and redesigning the Canada Pension Plan/Disability Benefit to incorporate the DTC definition of disability and permit employment.

The Globe and Mail September 14, 2021

News

Lawyer says lack of accessible, private voting options a violation of Charter

THE CANADIAN PRESS

OTTAWA

David Lepofsky was not able to mark his choice independently on the mail-in ballot Elections Canada sent to him because he is blind.

He opted to not vote in person with his wife because she has a serious immune limitation and they don’t want to risk being infected with COVID-19.

Mr. Lepofsky, who is a lawyer advocating for accessibility for disabled people, said the voting options available for blind people don’t allow them to cast their ballots privately.

He said the lack of accessible voting options is a violation of Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which requires equal protection and benefit of the law to those living with mental or physical disabilities.

“This is just awful,” he said in an interview with The Canadian Press. “The basic right we’re all supposed to enjoy is the right to mark our own ballot in private and to mark it independently, or ourselves, and to be able to verify this mark the way we want. And I currently don’t have that as a blind person at the federal level.”

Elections Canada responded to his complaint on Twitter on Sunday, saying the agency recognizes “the special ballot process is not ideal for an elector who is unable to mark their ballot independently.”

Mr. Lepofsky said the other option of voting in-person at a polling station also would not allow him to vote in private because an Elections Canada officer would have to read and verify his voting choice.

An Elections Canada spokesperson said those who provide assistance to voters must take oaths to protect the secrecy of those ballots.

“In the case of a poll worker, oaths are taken as part of the job when they provide assistance to an elector,” Matthew McKenna said in a statement.

Chat News Today September 13, 2021

Originally posted at https://chatnewstoday.ca/2021/09/13/blind-lawyer-says-lack-of-accessible-private-voting-options-violates-charter/

Blind lawyer says lack of accessible, private voting options violates Charter

Maan Alhmidi

The Canadian Press

SEPTEMBER 13, 2021 01:31 PM

A mail-in voting package that voters will receive if requested is seen in Calgary, Alta

OTTAWA — David Lepofsky was not able to mark his choice independently on the mail-in ballot Elections Canada sent to him because he is blind.

He opted to not vote in person with his wife because she has a serious immune limitation and they don’t want to risk being infected with COVID-19.

Lepofsky, who is a lawyer advocating for accessibility for disabled people, said the voting options available for blind people don’t allow them to cast their ballots privately.

He said the lack of accessible voting options is a violation of section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which requires equal protection and benefit of the law to those living with mental or physical disabilities.

“This is just awful,” he said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“The basic right we’re all supposed to enjoy is the right to mark our own ballot in private and to mark it independently, or ourselves, and to be able to verify this mark the way we want. And I currently don’t have that as a blind person at the federal level.”

Elections Canada responded to his complaint on Twitter on Sunday saying the agency recognizes “the special ballot process is not ideal for an elector who is unable to mark their ballot independently.”

Lepofsky said describing the situation as being “not ideal” is an “offensive understatement” because the mail-in ballots are not accessible.

He said the other option of voting in-person at a polling station also would not allow him to vote in private because an Elections Canada officer would have to read and verify his voting choice.

An Elections Canada spokesperson said those who provide assistance to voters must take oaths to protect the secrecy of those ballots.

“In the case of a poll worker, oaths are taken as part of the job when they provide assistance to an elector,” Matthew McKenna said in a statement.

According to Statistics Canada, about three per cent of Canadians aged 15 years and older, or about 750,000 people, have a seeing disability that limits their daily activities and 5.8 per cent of this group are legally blind.

Lepofsky, who is the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said his group sent a letter last month to all main federal parties asking for 12 commitments on accessibility, including one on accessibility of the electoral process.

“Only one leader has answered us. And that is (NDP Leader) Jagmeet Singh,” he said.

“We don’t support anyone or oppose anyone. We try to get the strongest commitments we can, but we have not even gotten an answer from (Liberal Leader) Justin Trudeau or (Conservative Leader) Erin O’Toole.”

He said there should be voting options at the federal level for people with disabilities that allow them to vote without needing help from anyone. He said voting by phone through an automated system can be a good option.

“In New Zealand, they have a phone-in ballot which is not internet-connected. That’s available for voters with vision loss. There are different options around the world but we are lagging way behind,” he said.

“We’re in the dark ages.”

Last year, Elections BC provided a telephone voting option for voters who are unable to vote independently, including people who have vision loss, those who have a disability or an underlying health condition that prevents them from voting independently and those who were self-isolating during the last week of the campaign and unable to vote by mail.

McKenna said introducing other voting options requires a law change.

“Changes to the way Canadians vote, including telephone voting, would in almost all cases require authorization from Parliament, typically in the form of legislative change,” he said.

“When assessing new voting processes or services, we undertake significant planning and testing to ensure that the new option is accessible, and that the confidentiality, secrecy, reliability and integrity of the vote are preserved.”

Mr. Lepofsky said there should be voting options at the federal level for people with disabilities that allow them to vote without needing help from anyone. He said voting by phone through an automated system can be a good option.

“In New Zealand, they have a phone-in ballot which is not internet-connected. That’s available for voters with vision loss. There are different options around the world but we are lagging way behind,” he said.

“We’re in the dark ages.”



Source link

Neither Election Front-Runner, Trudeau or O’Toole, Ever Ended Up Answering the AODA Alliance’s Request for Disability Accessibility Election Pledges – And Other Last Minute Election News


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities Web: https://www.aodaalliance.org
Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @aodaalliance
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

September 19, 2021

Tomorrow is the final day to vote in the current federal election. Here is a last look at disability accessibility issues as they have been addressed in this election campaign.

We thank all those who lent their support to our effort to raise disability accessibility in this election campaign. Stay tuned for more federal and provincial news on accessibility issues after the votes are counted.

1. Election Front-Runners Trudeau and O’Toole Have Still Never Answered the AODA Alliance’s Request for Disability Accessibility Election Pledges

With less than 24 hours to go, the AODA Alliance has still not received any election commitments from the two front-runners, the Liberals’ Justin Trudeau and the Conservatives’ Erin O’Toole, in response to our August 3, 2021 letter to all major federal party leaders. That letter sought 12 commitments to make Canada accessible to over six million people with disabilities, as the Accessible Canada Act aims to achieve.

The only party that has given commitments in response has been the New Democratic Party. We commend the NDP and have reminded the other parties over this last weekend that it was still not too late to meet or beat the NDP pledges.

Three days ago, the Conservative Party campaign emailed the AODA Alliance to ask for our letter in which we sought these commitments, stating that they had not received it. This is difficult to understand, since we have not only emailed it to them, but tweeted about it to Mr. O’Toole and to as many of their party’s candidates as we have been able. We quickly re-sent it to the Tories on September 16, 2021. We have still heard nothing back from them.

2. Minor Surge in Last-Minute Media Coverage of the Federal Election’s Disability Issues

There has been a bit of a surge in media coverage of disability issues in this election over the final weekend before election day. On Friday, September 17, 2021, City TV news included a story by reporter Mark McAllister entitled: “Accessibility advocates feel left out of election”, which began:

“As the election campaign nears a close, a large portion of the population are still waiting for their concerns to be addressed. Mark McAllister reports on why accessibility may play into the final vote on Monday.”

We could not find the text of that report online, but the report itself is available at https://toronto.citynews.ca/video/2021/09/17/accessibility-advocates-feel-left-out-of-election/

As well, on Saturday, September 18, 2021, under 48 hours before the vote, CBC Radio’s health program White Coat Black Art with host Dr. Brian Goldman included an item on the election’s disability issues. It did not include the AODA Alliance or the specific issues we have raised. A transcript of that program is available at https://www.cbc.ca/radio/whitecoat/transcript-for-white-coat-black-art-rabia-s-family-1.6181372

We appreciate this issue receiving any coverage. It appears that CBC came to it quite late in the campaign. This presents a challenge, since by the time CBC got around to considering it, at least 5 million voters have reportedly voted already. For them, that coverage came too late.

Let’s all watch to see whether the reporters and pundits who spend hours on TV and radio on Monday night, and who write article after article for newspapers and websites on the election results, have much if anything to say on the election’s implications for people with disabilities. After this election is over, the media needs to seriously reflect on why it so systemically and repeatedly treats such issues as secondary, or leaves them out altogether.

3. A Quick Closer Look at Two Troubling Elements in the Liberal platform.

First, in its published platform, the Liberals promise to harmonize accessibility standards for people with disabilities across Canada. “Harmonization” at first sounds positive. However, this promise should worry us.

This could easily lead to a reduction in accessibility protections. Standards on accessibility could be brought in line with each other by reducing them to the lowest common denominator. That would harmfully take protections away from people with disabilities.

In any event, we do not know how the Federal Government has authority to reduce accessibility standards across Canada. An accessibility standard enacted in Ontario under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act cannot be altered by the Federal Government.

Second, the Liberals have promised that if they are re-elected, the Federal Government will use the definition of disability in the Accessible Canada Act for all federal programs. This too at first blush sounds appealing. However, it too is a bad idea that can hurt people with disabilities.

The definition of “disability” in any particular federal program must be tailored to the purposes of that program. For some programs, such as the implementation of the Accessible Canada Act, a broad definition of disability is desirable. For other programs, that broad definition would be harmful. A narrower definition of disability would be desirable.

For example, if the Federal Government used the Accessible Canada Act’s broad definition of disability for its employment equity programs, The Government could immediately claim that it has a massive number of people with disabilities now working in the Federal Government, and that no employment equity efforts are needed to expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Yet people with disabilities face very troubling rates of unemployment and need to be front and center in any federal employment equity program.




Source link

Neither Election Front-Runner, Trudeau or O’Toole, Ever Ended Up Answering the AODA Alliance’s Request for Disability Accessibility Election Pledges – And Other Last Minute Election News


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

Web: www.aodaalliance.org

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @aodaalliance

Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

Neither Election Front-Runner, Trudeau or O’Toole, Ever Ended Up Answering the AODA Alliance’s Request for Disability Accessibility Election Pledges – And Other Last Minute Election News

September 19, 2021

Tomorrow is the final day to vote in the current federal election. Here is a last look at disability accessibility issues as they have been addressed in this election campaign.

We thank all those who lent their support to our effort to raise disability accessibility in this election campaign. Stay tuned for more federal and provincial news on accessibility issues after the votes are counted.

1. Election Front-Runners Trudeau and O’Toole Have Still Never Answered the AODA Alliance’s Request for Disability Accessibility Election Pledges

With less than 24 hours to go, the AODA Alliance has still not received any election commitments from the two front-runners, the Liberals’ Justin Trudeau and the Conservatives’ Erin O’Toole, in response to our August 3, 2021 letter to all major federal party leaders. That letter sought 12 commitments to make Canada accessible to over six million people with disabilities, as the Accessible Canada Act aims to achieve.

The only party that has given commitments in response has been the New Democratic Party. We commend the NDP and have reminded the other parties over this last weekend that it was still not too late to meet or beat the NDP pledges.

Three days ago, the Conservative Party campaign emailed the AODA Alliance to ask for our letter in which we sought these commitments, stating that they had not received it. This is difficult to understand, since we have not only emailed it to them, but tweeted about it to Mr. O’Toole and to as many of their party’s candidates as we have been able. We quickly re-sent it to the Tories on September 16, 2021. We have still heard nothing back from them.

2. Minor Surge in Last-Minute Media Coverage of the Federal Election’s Disability Issues

There has been a bit of a surge in media coverage of disability issues in this election over the final weekend before election day. On Friday, September 17, 2021, City TV news included a story by reporter Mark McAllister entitled:

“Accessibility advocates feel left out of election”, which began:

“As the election campaign nears a close, a large portion of the population are still waiting for their concerns to be addressed. Mark McAllister reports on why accessibility may play into the final vote on Monday.”

We could not find the text of that report online, but the report itself is available at https://toronto.citynews.ca/video/2021/09/17/accessibility-advocates-feel-left-out-of-election/

As well, on Saturday, September 18, 2021, under 48 hours before the vote, CBC Radio’s health program White Coat Black Art with host Dr. Brian Goldman included an item on the election’s disability issues. It did not include the AODA Alliance or the specific issues we have raised. A transcript of that program is available at https://www.cbc.ca/radio/whitecoat/transcript-for-white-coat-black-art-rabia-s-family-1.6181372

We appreciate this issue receiving any coverage. It appears that CBC came to it quite late in the campaign. This presents a challenge, since by the time CBC got around to considering it, at least 5 million voters have reportedly voted already. For them, that coverage came too late.

Let’s all watch to see whether the reporters and pundits who spend hours on TV and radio on Monday night, and who write article after article for newspapers and websites on the election results, have much if anything to say on the election’s implications for people with disabilities. After this election is over, the media needs to seriously reflect on why it so systemically and repeatedly treats such issues as secondary, or leaves them out altogether.

3. A Quick Closer Look at Two Troubling Elements in the Liberal platform.

First, in its published platform, the Liberals promise to harmonize accessibility standards for people with disabilities across Canada. “Harmonization” at first sounds positive. However, this promise should worry us.

This could easily lead to a reduction in accessibility protections. Standards on accessibility could be brought in line with each other by reducing them to the lowest common denominator. That would harmfully take protections away from people with disabilities.

In any event, we do not know how the Federal Government has authority to reduce accessibility standards across Canada. An accessibility standard enacted in Ontario under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act cannot be altered by the Federal Government.

Second, the Liberals have promised that if they are re-elected, the Federal Government will use the definition of disability in the Accessible Canada Act for all federal programs. This too at first blush sounds appealing. However, it too is a bad idea that can hurt people with disabilities.

The definition of “disability” in any particular federal program must be tailored to the purposes of that program. For some programs, such as the implementation of the Accessible Canada Act, a broad definition of disability is desirable. For other programs, that broad definition would be harmful. A narrower definition of disability would be desirable.

For example, if the Federal Government used the Accessible Canada Act’s broad definition of disability for its employment equity programs, The Government could immediately claim that it has a massive number of people with disabilities now working in the Federal Government, and that no employment equity efforts are needed to expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Yet people with disabilities face very troubling rates of unemployment and need to be front and center in any federal employment equity program.



Source link

On the Eve of the Federal Election, Tories Will Try to Answer the AODA Alliance Request for Federal Election Commitments


Liberals Say They’ll Enact At Least Some Accessibility Standard Within Four Years of the Accessible Canada Act’s Passage

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities Web: https://www.aodaalliance.org
Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @aodaalliance
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

September 17, 2021

SUMMARY

The federal election is just three days away. We have more breaking news on our efforts to get the federal parties to all make strong commitments on making Canada accessible to over 6 million people with disabilities in Canada.

As of now, only the New Democratic Party has answered the AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 written request for 12 election commitments on the topic of accessibility for people with disabilities. The NDP made many if not most of the 12 election pledges we requested.

We thank and congratulate the NDP for doing so. We urge all other parties to do the same, in our spirit of non-partisanship.

1. Federal Conservatives Say They Will Try to Answer the AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 Letter

On September 16, 2021, the AODA Alliance received an email from the Conservative Party. It asks for a copy of the AODA Alliance’s request for election commitments, and says they will try to respond before voting day. The email indicates that they had not received our request for commitments before this.

We again quickly provided the Tories our August 3, 2021 letter to the federal parties in response to that email. We originally emailed it to Erin O’Toole on August 3, 2021. We posted it on the AODA Alliance website the next day. Over the past days, we have tweeted at Mr. O’Toole and many Conservative Candidates, trying to get them to answer this letter. Moreover, the September 6, 2021 report in the Hill Times, set out below, states that that newspaper reached out by email to the Tories about this issue but got no answer.

From the email we received from the Conservatives, it appears that they reached out to us because they had received a media inquiry on why they had not answered our request for commitments. This further shows how people with disabilities lose out when the media either do not cover this story at all, or delay coverage till late in the campaign.

2. Liberal Cabinet Minister Carla Qualtrough Says the Liberals Would Enact Accessibility Standards within Four Years of the Accessible Canada Act’s Enactment

The Liberal Party has also not answered the AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 letter, requesting 12 pledges on disability accessibility. However, in an interview published in the influential Hill Times newspaper dated September 6, 2021, set out below, federal Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough commits that the Federal Government would enact accessibility standards within four years of the Accessible Canada Act’s enactment. However, she did not say which accessibility standards would be enacted within that time frame. She also said that “hundreds” of accessibility standards would be needed.

Finally, she recognized that the Accessible Canada Act has room for improvement. However, she did not commit to making any specific improvements.

The September 6, 2021 Hill Times article, set out below, states that none of the federal parties had answered the AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 letter, that seeks election commitments. Since that article was written, the NDP answered our request, as noted above.

3. More Media Coverage of the Federal Election’s Disabilities Issues Days Before the Election

In an earlier AODA Alliance Update, we noted that CBC was one of the media organizations that had not been covering the election’s disability issues. The CBC has now started to do so, but only in the past two days. Two articles are set out below. One could say “better late than never.” However, we qualify this by noting that for the millions of voters who already have voted, late is the same as never!

We have also benefitted from coverage on Sauga Radio with Karlene Nation, CHML Radio Hamilton with Bill Kelly, and Sirius XM Radio with Dahlia Kurtz. We thank them all for shining the spotlight on this election issue.

MORE DETAILS

The Hill Times September 6, 2021
Originally posted at https://www.hilltimes.com/2021/09/06/disability-groups-still-waiting-for-most-parties-to-address-accessibility/315130

Disability groups still waiting for parties to address accessibility

Advocates say they are the largest minority in Canada. Some groups say that in the long run they are the minority of everybody, as the policies they are fighting for will impact everyone at some point in their life.

By Ian Campbell

Disability advocacy group says that it has yet to receive a reply from any of the federal parties after it sent them an open letter at the beginning of the campaign seeking specific commitments about making Canada more accessible.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance (AODA Alliance), which is chaired by Osgoode Hall law professor David Lepofsky, said they released their open letter on Aug. 3 because they knew an election was imminent and wanted their concerns to be on the radar of parties and voters throughout the campaign.

The letter listed twelve commitments the group is seeking from the parties related to the implementation and amendment of the Accessible Canada Act (ACA), a law that was passed by the Liberal government in June 2019.

Some of the items the group is calling for include a commitment that federal government grants will not go to projects that do not meet accessibility standards, and the removal of loopholes in the ACA that allow some organizations to be exempt from its requirements. The AODA Alliance also wants a four-year timeline for enforcement of the accessibility standards required by the Act.

We are concerned that the law itself is too weak and the governments actions to implement it fall short, said Mr. Lepofsky in an interview with The Hill Times. Not that theyre doing nothing. Theyre just not doing enough, and theyre not moving fast enough.

The Hill Times reached out to each of the four main federal parties that are running candidates across Canada, asking for an interview with one of their candidates who identified as having a disability and who could speak to the partys policies related to disability and accessibility. The Conservative Party did not reply to multiple emails. The Green Party replied with a policy statement but was not able to make a candidate available for an interview.

The AODA Alliance released a statement on Sept. 2, the day following the release of the Liberal party platform, criticizing the platform document as well as the continued lack of response from the other federal parties to their letter.

[The Liberals, Conservatives, and NDP] mention needs of people with disabilities several times in their platforms, said the statement. This is a step forward from some past elections. However, they fall well short of what people with disabilities need.

The only party that says anything about strengthening the weak Accessible Canada Act is the NDP. [The Liberals and the Conservatives] dont really say very much at all on this. But none of them make the 12 commitments that we seek, Mr. Lepofsky said.

Mr. Lepofsky said his group always writes to parties in each election campaign, because platforms tend to offer a more general, high-level discussion of issues, and that seeking specific policy commitments is important to his organization.

We know that a platform may only have a couple of sentences, which is why we write to the parties. So the first thing thats worrisome is theyre not answering, said Mr. Lepofsky.

In so far as the issue of achieving accessibility for people with disabilities is concerned, the Liberal platform mainly repeats what it promised two years ago: namely, promising a disability lens on all government decisions, and pledging the timely and ambitious implementation of the Accessible Canada Act. The governments record over the past two years on both commitments is unimpressive.

As an example, Mr. Lepofsky pointed to the ArriveCan application, which can be used to facilitate the process of crossing the border into Canada. Mr. Lepofsky said the application has significant accessibility barriers for people who are visually impaired.

In an interview with The Hill Times, Carla Qualtrough (Delta, B.C.), who has served as Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion in the Liberal government, said now that the Liberal platform has been released, she is able to make more specific commitments in response to the items raised by Mr. Lepofsky in the AODA Alliances Aug. 3 letter.

I can tell him that there will be enforceable standards within four years, said Ms. Qualtrough. The goal in the act is a barrier-free Canada by 2040, and all the work that I think David and other advocates, and perhaps rightfully so, kind of worry will be at the back end of the next nineteen years is being done now.
Ms. Qualtrough added that while she is committed to having enforceable standards within four years, she cannot yet say which ones. She said that implementing the act involves developing highly detailed standards across every federally regulated sector.

Were talking standards in every aspect of federal government jurisdiction. So if you think of banks alone, there will be a standard for ATMs, for entrances, for money, for customer service. There are hundreds of standards that need to be developed over the course of the years. And theres big ones, like an employment standard, but then there will be super technical ones, like counter height at a bank. So all of this will take time.

Ms. Qualtrough said she understands the urgency that advocacy groups feel.

I think that 2040 feels like a long way away, and it is for people whove been discriminated against their entire life, of course it is. But that doesnt mean that work hasnt already started and wont be done.

Ms. Qualtrough said that the vast majority of time since the ACA has been in place was during the pandemic, but that progress was still made in that time.

I think that what weve done under the ACA, in the midst of all that, is phenomenal, she said. Weve set up Accessible Standards Canada. Weve set up the board, on which half of the members are persons with disabilities. Weve put in place technical groups that are headed by people with disabilities to work on the first four standards.

Mr. Lepofsky and other advocates have expressed concern that two key positions related to the enforcement of the ACA, the Accessibility Commissioner and the Chief Accessibility Officer, have not yet been filled.

NDP candidate Sidney Coles, who is running in Toronto-St. Pauls, said that part of her partys commitment to improve the ACA relates to looking at issues of jurisdiction.

[NDP leader Jagmeet Singh] has committed to work to improve the Accessibility Act. Where were not quite clear, jurisdictionally, is who is going to enforce standards, said Ms. Coles, who has limited mobility due to a leg injury.

We need to work with the provinces to figure out how we do that from the municipality, to the province, to the federal level, and specifically with jurisdictional overlays, transport being one. When youre improving a train, that may be a federal issue if its a national train. The municipality also has to respond and make sure that once passengers are coming off that train that the stations are set up to also accommodate passengers.

Ms. Qualtrough said she sees the ACA as a major accomplishment, but there remains room for improvement.

We will always look at making this law better. In my mindand Im saying this as a human rights lawyerthis is probably the most significant advancement in human rights for people with disabilities since the Charter. Like, this is an entirely new system of accountability and prospective barrier removal thats going to prevent discrimination. Were trying to make our disability conversations across the country about human rights. Its not this medical or charity model. Its a human rights and poverty reduction lens.

Ms. Qualtrough, who is legally blind, said she is thrilled to see these issues getting discussed during a federal election campaign.

Poverty relief essential: Adair

Mr. Lepofskys organization is not the only one calling for attention to disability issues during this election.

Bill Adair, the executive director of Spinal Cord Injury Canada, said that poverty is one of the key issues his organizations would like to see addressed on the campaign trail.

The reality is that almost four million people in Canada live in poverty. One third of those people are people with disabilities, said Mr. Adair.

So our call is for a basic income to be provided to people living with disabilities to ensure that they no longer live in poverty.

Mr. Adair said that the Canada Disability Benefit, introduced by the Liberal government in June in the final days of the last Parliament, indicated the intent to do something specific about this, but there needs to be much more detail than was included in that announcement.

It needs to be much more robust, said Mr. Adair. Wed like to know, how soon is it going to be created? How much will be provided? How will this be coordinated with provinces and territories to ensure that they do not claw back benefits that people with disabilities are already receiving?

We understand this is not a simple equation that can just be solved quickly, but we are looking for something with details. We are looking for something which lifts people out of the poverty that is preventing them from participating in our great democracy.

Jewelles Smith, communications and government relations coordinator at the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD), said that democratic participation is one of the most important topics of all, and that means making election campaigns accessible so that voters who have a disability can fully participate in the process of shaping the government.

For people with disabilities to make an informed choice when casting their ballot they need full access to candidates campaigns, said Ms. Smith.

She said that she has not consistently seen sign language interpreters appearing next to the party leaders, such as was seen next to the public health officers during the pandemic, and that many of the parties websites are lacking in accessibility features.

I thought that with the pandemic its kind of a lesson learned, she said. I thought we would be seeing it from the primary candidates who are trying to get our votes.

Ms. Smith said that Elections Canada now allows candidates to spend money on accessibility-related costs that will not go towards their campaign spending limits. A portion of these costs also qualify for reimbursement from Elections Canada.

Mr. Lepofsky said that, with his groups focus on seeking public policy commitments related to accessibility, it is vital that all voters experience an accessible election process.

We say that were the minority of everybody, said Mr. Lepofsky. Because everybody either has a disability now or gets one later. If you can see perfectly right now, as you get older, you might not be able to. So the barriers were fighting, if its not relevant to you now, it could be relevant to you later. [email protected]
The Hill Times

CBC News September 17, 2021

Originally posted at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/priorities-for-millions-of-canadians-with-disabilities-left-out-of-election-campaign-say-advocates-1.6178053

Priorities for millions of Canadians with disabilities ‘left out’ of election campaign, say advocates

Kate McGillivray
CBC News
Toronto

An accessibility access point for a building through a parking garage in downtown Vancouver. It is behind a locked gate and has a grate that is difficult to cross with a wheelchair. (David Horemans/CBC)

One of Canada’s leading advocates for Canadians with disabilities says they are heading into election day on Monday with little confidence that their needs are a priority and few firm promises from federal parties.

David Lepofsky, who is blind, is the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act Alliance, or AODA Alliance.

His group, which is non-partisan, sent each party a letter in early August requesting they make 12 specific commitments related to accessibility.

The requests range from making sure voting is fully accessible to promising not to spend public money on projects that perpetuate or create new barriers.

As of Friday, with the election now three days away, only one major party has come on board.

“The NDP made many, if not most, of our commitments. As for the other parties, we got a response from the Trudeau campaign merely acknowledging receipt of our letter,” said Lepofsky.

The Conservatives, he said, did not respond to the group at all.

“It’s enormously frustrating, unfair and troubling that disability issues in this election have yet again been given short shrift,” said Lepofsky.

“Six million people with disabilities and their families and loved ones get left out.”

Concern about lack of follow-through

The AODA Alliance is far from the only voice expressing disappointment with how little focus has gone to accessibility issues since campaigning began.

A recent Angus Reid study found that 67 per cent of Canadians with disabilities thought that their needs had not received enough attention during the election.

Other groups, such as the Accessible Housing Network, have also tried to put the issue on the agenda, calling on all parties to require that “all new and refurbished housing be 100 per cent accessible” to increase the dignity, freedom, wellbeing and social inclusion of people with disabilities.

Luke Anderson, who serves as executive director of the Stopgap Foundation, told CBC Toronto he’s had to “go digging pretty deep” to find any mention of disability in the party platforms.

Luke Anderson says people with disabilities are once again being left out of the pre-election conversation. His StopGap Foundation builds ramps for single-step storefronts and raises awareness about barriers in our built environment. (Luke Anderson)

Even after reading what the parties have to say, he has little faith that what’s being promised will actually happen.

“I’m scared that their platforms on accessibility and disability aren’t going to be enforced and followed through on.”

Legislative failures

One area that both Lepofsky and Anderson say badly needs work is the Accessible Canada Act (ACA), passed back in 2019.

The act’s stated purpose was to “identify, remove and prevent” accessibility barriers in areas that fall under federal jurisdiction but Lepofsky says that in practice, implementation has been weak, and the rules are unclear.

“For example, this law does not require that when the federal government gives out billions for infrastructure projects that it ensures that those projects will be accessible to people with disabilities,” he said.

His group would like to see the act significantly strengthened, with loopholes closed, clear timelines for organizations to fall in line, and consequences for failing to do so.

David Lepofsky says: if the Liberal and Conservative leaders are ‘not prepared to respond to our inquiries now, in the middle of election, it doesnt give you any confidence that theyre going to be any more responsive once the election is over.’

The AODA Alliance would also like to see improvements to the National Building Code, which it says “falls short of the accessibility requirements in the Charter of Rights, applicable human rights codes and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”

Of the three major parties, only the Conservatives responded to a request from CBC News for details on their platform and an explanation for why they did not respond to the AODA Alliance.

The party says it plans to “boost the Enabling Accessibility Fund by $80 million per year, double the Disability Supplement in the Canada Workers Benefit from $713 to $1,500, [and] overhaul the complex array of disability supports and benefits,” among other steps.

The Conservatives did not address their lack of response to Lepofsky’s group.

CBC News September 15, 2021

Originally posted at https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/ask-accessible-voting-election-disabilities-1.6175148

How accessible is voting for people with disabilities?

Tyler Bloomfield
CBC News

A lawn sign from a Disability Matters Vote (DMVote) campaign is seen in Manitoba in 2019. DMVote is a non-partisan public awareness campaign that supports Manitobans with disabilities so they can participate fully in election activities. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

This story idea came from an audience member, like you, who got in touch with us. Send us your questions and story tips. We are listening: [email protected]

For some people, voting isn’t as simple as showing up to the polls on election day and casting a ballot.

From getting voter information to upholding the privacy of a ballot, there are barriers that exist in the voting process for people with disabilities.

CBC News readers have been asking us about them and the accessibility of the federal election in general.

From getting voter information to upholding the privacy of a ballot, advocates say there are barriers that exist in the voting process for people with disabilities. Listen to a text-to-speech version of this full story. 6:30

Getting the resources you need

Before someone with a disability even gets to the polls there are hurdles to clear. One, for example, is getting the voter information you need in a format that works for you.

Elections Canada offers voter information like its guide to the federal election and list of accepted forms of ID to register and vote as an American Sign Language (ASL) and Langue des signes québécoise (LSQ) video with open captioning.

You can also order physical resources in braille, large print or as an audio CD.

Have an election question for CBC News? Email [email protected] Your input helps inform our coverage.

For people who are deaf or partly deaf, Elections Canada also has an ASL version of a video explaining how it is making federal elections accessible and an ASL version of its video that covers voting assistance tools and services.

If a family member or friend has asked you for help voting, Elections Canada has a section on its website clarifying what is and is not allowed when offering support.

Accessibility at the polls

If you’re voting in person on election day, you’ll want to make sure your assigned polling station has everything you require to vote safely and accurately.

Returning officers use an accessibility checklist, which contains 37 criteria 15 of which are mandatory.

A polling station, for example, is required to provide a level access instead of stairs to the entrance and the voting room must be on the same level as the entryway.

But Elections Canada does not mandate parking spaces for people with disabilities.

You can check to see exactly how accessible your nearest polling station is by searching your postal code on Elections Canada’s voter information service. If you are deaf or partly deaf you can Teletype (TTY) 1-800-361-8935 for more information.

If your assigned polling place does not meet your needs, the agency says to contact your local Elections Canada office and you may be issued a Transfer Certificate. This would allow you to vote at a more accessible polling place in your riding.

David Lepofsky is the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance and a visiting professor at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University in Toronto. He points out that the COVID-19 pandemic also introduces barriers at the polls for electors with disabilities.

For instance, if a voter who is blind or partly blind shows up on their own, he says they might require another person to guide them, but “you can’t take someone’s arm and be guided if you’re trying to socially distance.”

Lepofsky adds that minimizing the distance between the doors of the polling station and where you go to cast your ballot could be one way to help address that issue, as well as including properly colour-contrasted tape and stanchions to assist people so they can know by touch.

Elections Canada says high-visibility physical distancing markers will be in place at polling places, so that electors who are partly blind can more easily see them and maintain physical distance.

Each polling station will also carry tools to make reading and marking your ballot more accessible. If you ask a poll worker they should be able to provide you with a large-print or braille list of candidates, tactile and braille voting templates, magnifiers, large-grip pencils and voting screens that let in more light.

The right to a private ballot

An issue Lepofsky says is harder to address is maintaining the right to a private ballot for people who are blind or partly blind.

We have never had that right. We have had to either have somebody else mark our ballot for us, which means you have to tell someone else a trusted friend or a public official who youre voting for, he said.

People without disabilities take this right for granted because they dont even have to think about it.

David Lepofsky, the Chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, says people who are blind or partly blind have never had the right to mark and independently verify their own ballot in federal elections.

Elections Canada told CBC News in an email that the secrecy of those votes are maintained by the oaths taken by those who assist them.

In the case of a poll worker, oaths are taken as part of the job when they provide assistance to an elector. Its always done in the presence of a witness. If the elector requests assistance from someone they know, that person is required to sign an oath before they provide assistance, said Matthew McKenna, a spokesperson for Elections Canada.

But Lepofsky says he believes the process still amounts to a systemic denial for people with disabilities to mark and verify a ballot on their own.

There are ways to ensure they can vote in private and to verify their choice, he says, but the federal government and Elections Canada have not applied those in this election.

More accessible voting methods

One of Lepofsky’s suggestions is to introduce more accessible ways of voting, like telephone voting. This method would allow electors to call in to vote and has been used in provincial elections across Canada.

In B.C., assisted telephone voting is available to voters who are blind, or who have a disability or underlying health condition that prevents them from voting on their own. It was also made available during the 2020 provincial election for people who had to self-isolate during the last week of the campaign period because of a positive COVID-19 test or exposure.

Introducing new technology and voting methods into federal elections raises security and accuracy concerns.

Aleksander Essex, an associate professor of software engineering at Western University in London, Ont., specializes in voting technology. He doesn’t recommend phone voting, he says, because of what he has seen in Ontario municipal elections that use the method.

He says there were instances where the call would drop, leading to more problems.

“The voter would call back and they would say, ‘Well, sorry, you can’t vote because you’ve already voted.’ So they had to go back and sort of work with the city to literally pull the vote out of the telephone system to have it reset.”

He acknowledges that methods like online voting could also reduce barriers, but he says the security risks outweigh the benefits.

“We can’t make this a zero-sum game between accessibility and cybersecurity. We have to have both.”

Lepofsky also mentioned that accessible voting machines are used in some places, but that they have had problems with reliability in the past.

Elections Canada says the voting methods used by Canadians are prescribed in the Canada Elections Act. Changes to the way votes are cast would require authorization from Parliament, typically in the form of legislative change.

“I don’t believe that we need to just accept the status quo, replete with disability barriers or do nothing,” said Lepofsky.




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On the Eve of the Federal Election, Tories Will Try to Answer the AODA Alliance Request for Federal Election Commitments – Liberals Say They’ll Enact At Least Some Accessibility Standard Within Four Years of the Accessible Canada Act’s Passage


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

Web: www.aodaalliance.org

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @aodaalliance

Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

On the Eve of the Federal Election, Tories Will Try to Answer the AODA Alliance Request for Federal Election Commitments – Liberals Say They’ll Enact At Least Some Accessibility Standard Within Four Years of the Accessible Canada Act’s Passage

September 17, 2021

        SUMMARY

The federal election is just three days away. We have more breaking news on our efforts to get the federal parties to all make strong commitments on making Canada accessible to over 6 million people with disabilities in Canada.

As of now, only the New Democratic Party has answered the AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 written request for 12 election commitments on the topic of accessibility for people with disabilities. The NDP made many if not most of the 12 election pledges we requested.

We thank and congratulate the NDP for doing so. We urge all other parties to do the same, in our spirit of non-partisanship.

1. Federal Conservatives Say They Will Try to Answer the AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 Letter

On September 16, 2021, the AODA Alliance received an email from the Conservative Party. It asks for a copy of the AODA Alliance’s request for election commitments, and says they will try to respond before voting day. The email indicates that they had not received our request for commitments before this.

We again quickly provided the Tories our August 3, 2021 letter to the federal parties in response to that email. We originally emailed it to Erin O’Toole on August 3, 2021. We posted it on the AODA Alliance website the next day. Over the past days, we have tweeted at Mr. O’Toole and many Conservative Candidates, trying to get them to answer this letter. Moreover, the September 6, 2021 report in the Hill Times, set out below, states that that newspaper reached out by email to the Tories about this issue but got no answer.

From the email we received from the Conservatives, it appears that they reached out to us because they had received a media inquiry on why they had not answered our request for commitments. This further shows how people with disabilities lose out when the media either do not cover this story at all, or delay coverage till late in the campaign.

2. Liberal Cabinet Minister Carla Qualtrough Says the Liberals Would Enact Accessibility Standards within Four Years of the Accessible Canada Act’s Enactment

The Liberal Party has also not answered the AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 letter, requesting 12 pledges on disability accessibility. However, in an interview published in the influential Hill Times newspaper dated September 6, 2021, set out below, federal Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough commits that the Federal Government would enact accessibility standards within four years of the Accessible Canada Act’s enactment. However, she did not say which accessibility standards would be enacted within that time frame. She also said that “hundreds” of accessibility standards would be needed.

Finally, she recognized that the Accessible Canada Act has room for improvement. However, she did not commit to making any specific improvements.

The September 6, 2021 Hill Times article, set out below, states that none of the federal parties had answered the AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 letter, that seeks election commitments. Since that article was written, the NDP answered our request, as noted above.

3. More Media Coverage of the Federal Election’s Disabilities Issues Days Before the Election

In an earlier AODA Alliance Update, we noted that CBC was one of the media organizations that had not been covering the election’s disability issues. The CBC has now started to do so, but only in the past two days. Two articles are set out below. One could say “better late than never.” However, we qualify this by noting that for the millions of voters who already have voted, late is the same as never!

We have also benefitted from coverage on Sauga Radio with Karlene Nation, CHML Radio Hamilton with Bill Kelly, and Sirius XM Radio with Dahlia Kurtz. We thank them all for shining the spotlight on this election issue.

        MORE DETAILS

The Hill Times September 6, 2021

Originally posted at https://www.hilltimes.com/2021/09/06/disability-groups-still-waiting-for-most-parties-to-address-accessibility/315130

Disability groups still waiting for parties to address accessibility

Advocates say they are the largest minority in Canada. Some groups say that in the long run they are ‘the minority of everybody,’ as the policies they are fighting for will impact everyone at some point in their life.

By Ian Campbell

Disability advocacy group says that it has yet to receive a reply from any of the federal parties after it sent them an open letter at the beginning of the campaign seeking specific commitments about making Canada more accessible.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance (AODA Alliance), which is chaired by Osgoode Hall law professor David Lepofsky, said they released their open letter on Aug. 3 because they knew an election was imminent and wanted their concerns to be on the radar of parties and voters throughout the campaign.

The letter listed twelve commitments the group is seeking from the parties related to the implementation and amendment of the Accessible Canada Act (ACA), a law that was passed by the Liberal government in June 2019.

Some of the items the group is calling for include a commitment that federal government grants will not go to projects that do not meet accessibility standards, and the removal of loopholes in the ACA that allow some organizations to be exempt from its requirements. The AODA Alliance also wants a four-year timeline for enforcement of the accessibility standards required by the Act.

“We are concerned that the law itself is too weak and the government’s actions to implement it fall short,” said Mr. Lepofsky in an interview with The Hill Times. “Not that they’re doing nothing. They’re just not doing enough, and they’re not moving fast enough.”

 

The Hill Times reached out to each of the four main federal parties that are running candidates across Canada, asking for an interview with one of their candidates who identified as having a disability and who could speak to the party’s policies related to disability and accessibility. The Conservative Party did not reply to multiple emails. The Green Party replied with a policy statement but was not able to make a candidate available for an interview.

The AODA Alliance released a statement on Sept. 2, the day following the release of the Liberal party platform, criticizing the platform document as well as the continued lack of response from the other federal parties to their letter.

“[The Liberals, Conservatives, and NDP] mention needs of people with disabilities several times in their platforms,” said the statement. “This is a step forward from some past elections. However, they fall well short of what people with disabilities need.”

“The only party that says anything about strengthening the weak Accessible Canada Act is the NDP. [The Liberals and the Conservatives] don’t really say very much at all on this. But none of them make the 12 commitments that we seek,” Mr. Lepofsky said.

Mr. Lepofsky said his group always writes to parties in each election campaign, because platforms tend to offer a more general, high-level discussion of issues, and that seeking specific policy commitments is important to his organization.

“We know that a platform may only have a couple of sentences, which is why we write to the parties. So the first thing that’s worrisome is they’re not answering,” said Mr. Lepofsky.

“In so far as the issue of achieving accessibility for people with disabilities is concerned, the Liberal platform mainly repeats what it promised two years ago: namely, promising a disability lens on all government decisions, and pledging the timely and ambitious implementation of the Accessible Canada Act. The government’s record over the past two years on both commitments is unimpressive.”

As an example, Mr. Lepofsky pointed to the ArriveCan application, which can be used to facilitate the process of crossing the border into Canada. Mr. Lepofsky said the application has significant accessibility barriers for people who are visually impaired.

In an interview with The Hill Times, Carla Qualtrough (Delta, B.C.), who has served as Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion in the Liberal government, said now that the Liberal platform has been released, she is able to make more specific commitments in response to the items raised by Mr. Lepofsky in the AODA Alliance’s Aug. 3 letter.

“I can tell him that there will be enforceable standards within four years,” said Ms. Qualtrough. “The goal in the act is a barrier-free Canada by 2040, and all the work that I think David and other advocates, and perhaps rightfully so, kind of worry will be at the back end of the next nineteen years is being done now.”

Ms. Qualtrough added that while she is committed to having enforceable standards within four years, she cannot yet say which ones. She said that implementing the act involves developing highly detailed standards across every federally regulated sector.

“We’re talking standards in every aspect of federal government jurisdiction. So if you think of banks alone, there will be a standard for ATMs, for entrances, for money, for customer service. There are hundreds of standards that need to be developed over the course of the years. And there’s big ones, like an employment standard, but then there will be super technical ones, like counter height at a bank. So all of this will take time.”

Ms. Qualtrough said she understands the urgency that advocacy groups feel.

“I think that 2040 feels like a long way away, and it is for people who’ve been discriminated against their entire life, of course it is. But that doesn’t mean that work hasn’t already started and won’t be done.”

Ms. Qualtrough said that the vast majority of time since the ACA has been in place was during the pandemic, but that progress was still made in that time.

“I think that what we’ve done under the ACA, in the midst of all that, is phenomenal,” she said. “We’ve set up Accessible Standards Canada. We’ve set up the board, on which half of the members are persons with disabilities. We’ve put in place technical groups that are headed by people with disabilities to work on the first four standards.”

Mr. Lepofsky and other advocates have expressed concern that two key positions related to the enforcement of the ACA, the Accessibility Commissioner and the Chief Accessibility Officer, have not yet been filled.

NDP candidate Sidney Coles, who is running in Toronto-St. Paul’s, said that part of her party’s commitment to improve the ACA relates to looking at issues of jurisdiction.

“[NDP leader Jagmeet Singh] has committed to work to improve the Accessibility Act. Where we’re not quite clear, jurisdictionally, is who is going to enforce standards,” said Ms. Coles, who has limited mobility due to a leg injury.

“We need to work with the provinces to figure out how we do that from the municipality, to the province, to the federal level, and specifically with jurisdictional overlays, transport being one. When you’re improving a train, that may be a federal issue if it’s a national train. The municipality also has to respond and make sure that once passengers are coming off that train that the stations are set up to also accommodate passengers.”

Ms. Qualtrough said she sees the ACA as a major accomplishment, but there remains room for improvement.

“We will always look at making this law better. In my mind—and I’m saying this as a human rights lawyer—this is probably the most significant advancement in human rights for people with disabilities since the Charter. Like, this is an entirely… new system of accountability and prospective barrier removal that’s going to prevent discrimination. We’re trying to make our disability conversations across the country about human rights. It’s not this medical or charity model. It’s a human rights and poverty reduction lens.”

Ms. Qualtrough, who is legally blind, said she is thrilled to see these issues getting discussed during a federal election campaign.

Poverty relief essential: Adair

Mr. Lepofsky’s organization is not the only one calling for attention to disability issues during this election.

Bill Adair, the executive director of Spinal Cord Injury Canada, said that poverty is one of the key issues his organizations would like to see addressed on the campaign trail.

“The reality is that almost four million people in Canada live in poverty. One third of those people are people with disabilities,” said Mr. Adair.

“So our call is for a basic income to be provided to people living with disabilities to ensure that they no longer live in poverty.”

Mr. Adair said that the Canada Disability Benefit, introduced by the Liberal government in June in the final days of the last Parliament, indicated the “intent to do something specific about this,” but there needs to be much more detail than was included in that announcement.

“It needs to be much more robust,” said Mr. Adair. “We’d like to know, how soon is it going to be created? How much will be provided? How will this be coordinated with provinces and territories to ensure that they do not claw back benefits that people with disabilities are already receiving?”

“We understand this is not a simple equation that can just be solved quickly, but we are looking for something with details. We are looking for something which lifts people out of the poverty that is preventing them from participating in our great democracy.”

Jewelles Smith, communications and government relations coordinator at the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD), said that democratic participation is one of the most important topics of all, and that means making election campaigns accessible so that voters who have a disability can fully participate in the process of shaping the government.

“For people with disabilities to make an informed choice when casting their ballot they need full access to candidates’ campaigns,” said Ms. Smith.

She said that she has not consistently seen sign language interpreters appearing next to the party leaders, such as was seen next to the public health officers during the pandemic, and that many of the parties’ websites are lacking in accessibility features.

“I thought that with the pandemic it’s kind of a lesson learned,” she said. “I thought we would be seeing it from the primary candidates who are trying to get our votes.”

Ms. Smith said that Elections Canada now allows candidates to spend money on accessibility-related costs that will not go towards their campaign spending limits. A portion of these costs also qualify for reimbursement from Elections Canada.

Mr. Lepofsky said that, with his group’s focus on seeking public policy commitments related to accessibility, it is vital that all voters experience an accessible election process.

“We say that we’re the minority of everybody,” said Mr. Lepofsky. “Because everybody either has a disability now or gets one later. If you can see perfectly right now, as you get older, you might not be able to. So the barriers we’re fighting, if it’s not relevant to you now, it could be relevant to you later.”

[email protected]

The Hill Times

 CBC News September 17, 2021

Originally posted at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/priorities-for-millions-of-canadians-with-disabilities-left-out-of-election-campaign-say-advocates-1.6178053

Priorities for millions of Canadians with disabilities ‘left out’ of election campaign, say advocates

Kate McGillivray

CBC News

Toronto

An accessibility access point for a building through a parking garage in downtown Vancouver. It is behind a locked gate and has a grate that is difficult to cross with a wheelchair. (David Horemans/CBC)

One of Canada’s leading advocates for Canadians with disabilities says they are heading into election day on Monday with little confidence that their needs are a priority — and few firm promises from federal parties.

David Lepofsky, who is blind, is the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act Alliance, or AODA Alliance.

His group, which is non-partisan, sent each party a letter in early August requesting they make 12 specific commitments related to accessibility.

The requests range from making sure voting is fully accessible to promising not to spend public money on projects that perpetuate or create new barriers.

As of Friday, with the election now three days away, only one major party has come on board.

“The NDP made many, if not most, of our commitments. As for the other parties, we got a response from the Trudeau campaign merely acknowledging receipt of our letter,” said Lepofsky.

The Conservatives, he said, did not respond to the group at all.

“It’s enormously frustrating, unfair and troubling that disability issues in this election have yet again been given short shrift,” said Lepofsky.

“Six million people with disabilities and their families and loved ones get left out.”

Concern about lack of follow-through

The AODA Alliance is far from the only voice expressing disappointment with how little focus has gone to accessibility issues since campaigning began.

A recent Angus Reid study found that 67 per cent of Canadians with disabilities thought that their needs had not received enough attention during the election.

Other groups, such as the Accessible Housing Network, have also tried to put the issue on the agenda, calling on all parties to require that “all new and refurbished housing be 100 per cent accessible” to increase the dignity, freedom, wellbeing and social inclusion of people with disabilities.

Luke Anderson, who serves as executive director of the Stopgap Foundation, told CBC Toronto he’s had to “go digging pretty deep” to find any mention of disability in the party platforms.

Luke Anderson says people with disabilities are once again being left out of the pre-election conversation. His StopGap Foundation builds ramps for single-step storefronts and raises awareness about barriers in our built environment. (Luke Anderson)

Even after reading what the parties have to say, he has little faith that what’s being promised will actually happen.

“I’m scared that their platforms on accessibility and disability aren’t going to be enforced and followed through on.”

Legislative failures

 

One area that both Lepofsky and Anderson say badly needs work is the Accessible Canada Act (ACA), passed back in 2019.

The act’s stated purpose was to “identify, remove and prevent” accessibility barriers in areas that fall under federal jurisdiction — but Lepofsky says that in practice, implementation has been weak, and the rules are unclear.

“For example, this law does not require that when the federal government gives out billions for infrastructure projects that it ensures that those projects will be accessible to people with disabilities,” he said.

His group would like to see the act significantly strengthened, with loopholes closed, clear timelines for organizations to fall in line, and consequences for failing to do so.

David Lepofsky says: if the Liberal and Conservative leaders are ‘not prepared to respond to our inquiries now, in the middle of election, it doesn’t give you any confidence that they’re going to be any more responsive once the election is over.’

The AODA Alliance would also like to see improvements to the National Building Code, which it says “falls short of the accessibility requirements in the Charter of Rights, applicable human rights codes and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”

Of the three major parties, only the Conservatives responded to a request from CBC News for details on their platform and an explanation for why they did not respond to the AODA Alliance.

The party says it plans to “boost the Enabling Accessibility Fund by $80 million per year, double the Disability Supplement in the Canada Workers Benefit from $713 to $1,500, [and] overhaul the complex array of disability supports and benefits,” among other steps.

The Conservatives did not address their lack of response to Lepofsky’s group.

 CBC News September 15, 2021

Originally posted at https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/ask-accessible-voting-election-disabilities-1.6175148

How accessible is voting for people with disabilities?

Tyler Bloomfield

CBC News

A lawn sign from a Disability Matters Vote (DMVote) campaign is seen in Manitoba in 2019. DMVote is a non-partisan public awareness campaign that supports Manitobans with disabilities so they can participate fully in election activities. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

This story idea came from an audience member, like you, who got in touch with us. Send us your questions and story tips. We are listening: [email protected]

For some people, voting isn’t as simple as showing up to the polls on election day and casting a ballot.

From getting voter information to upholding the privacy of a ballot, there are barriers that exist in the voting process for people with disabilities.

CBC News readers have been asking us about them and the accessibility of the federal election in general.

From getting voter information to upholding the privacy of a ballot, advocates say there are barriers that exist in the voting process for people with disabilities. Listen to a text-to-speech version of this full story. 6:30

Getting the resources you need

Before someone with a disability even gets to the polls there are hurdles to clear. One, for example, is getting the voter information you need in a format that works for you.

Elections Canada offers voter information — like its guide to the federal election and list of accepted forms of ID to register and vote — as an American Sign Language (ASL) and Langue des signes québécoise (LSQ) video with open captioning.

You can also order physical resources in braille, large print or as an audio CD.

Have an election question for CBC News? Email [email protected] Your input helps inform our coverage.

For people who are deaf or partly deaf, Elections Canada also has an ASL version of a video explaining how it is making federal elections accessible and an ASL version of its video that covers voting assistance tools and services.

If a family member or friend has asked you for help voting, Elections Canada has a section on its website clarifying what is and is not allowed when offering support.

Accessibility at the polls

If you’re voting in person on election day, you’ll want to make sure your assigned polling station has everything you require to vote safely and accurately.

Returning officers use an accessibility checklist, which contains 37 criteria — 15 of which are mandatory.

A polling station, for example, is required to provide a level access instead of stairs to the entrance and the voting room must be on the same level as the entryway.

But Elections Canada does not mandate parking spaces for people with disabilities.

You can check to see exactly how accessible your nearest polling station is by searching your postal code on Elections Canada’s voter information service. If you are deaf or partly deaf you can Teletype (TTY) 1-800-361-8935 for more information.

If your assigned polling place does not meet your needs, the agency says to contact your local Elections Canada office and you may be issued a Transfer Certificate. This would allow you to vote at a more accessible polling place in your riding.

David Lepofsky is the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance and a visiting professor at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University in Toronto. He points out that the COVID-19 pandemic also introduces barriers at the polls for electors with disabilities.

For instance, if a voter who is blind or partly blind shows up on their own, he says they might require another person to guide them, but “you can’t take someone’s arm and be guided if you’re trying to socially distance.”

Lepofsky adds that minimizing the distance between the doors of the polling station and where you go to cast your ballot could be one way to help address that issue, as well as including properly colour-contrasted tape and stanchions to assist people so they can know by touch.

Elections Canada says high-visibility physical distancing markers will be in place at polling places, so that electors who are partly blind can more easily see them and maintain physical distance.

Each polling station will also carry tools to make reading and marking your ballot more accessible. If you ask a poll worker they should be able to provide you with a large-print or braille list of candidates, tactile and braille voting templates, magnifiers, large-grip pencils and voting screens that let in more light.

The right to a private ballot

 

An issue Lepofsky says is harder to address is maintaining the right to a private ballot for people who are blind or partly blind.

“We have never had that right. We have had to either have somebody else mark our ballot for us, which means you have to tell someone else — a trusted friend or a public official — who you’re voting for,” he said.

“People without disabilities take this right for granted because they don’t even have to think about it.”

David Lepofsky, the Chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, says people who are blind or partly blind have never had the right to mark and independently verify their own ballot in federal elections.

Elections Canada told CBC News in an email that the secrecy of those votes are maintained by the oaths taken by those who assist them.

“In the case of a poll worker, oaths are taken as part of the job when they provide assistance to an elector. It’s always done in the presence of a witness. If the elector requests assistance from someone they know, that person is required to sign an oath before they provide assistance,” said Matthew McKenna, a spokesperson for Elections Canada.

But Lepofsky says he believes the process still amounts to a systemic denial for people with disabilities to mark and verify a ballot on their own.

There are ways to ensure they can vote in private and to verify their choice, he says, but the federal government and Elections Canada have not applied those in this election.

More accessible voting methods

 

One of Lepofsky’s suggestions is to introduce more accessible ways of voting, like telephone voting. This method would allow electors to call in to vote and has been used in provincial elections across Canada.

In B.C., assisted telephone voting is available to voters who are blind, or who have a disability or underlying health condition that prevents them from voting on their own. It was also made available during the 2020 provincial election for people who had to self-isolate during the last week of the campaign period because of a positive COVID-19 test or exposure.

Introducing new technology and voting methods into federal elections raises security and accuracy concerns.

Aleksander Essex, an associate professor of software engineering at Western University in London, Ont., specializes in voting technology. He doesn’t recommend phone voting, he says, because of what he has seen in Ontario municipal elections that use the method.

He says there were instances where the call would drop, leading to more problems.

“The voter would call back and they would say, ‘Well, sorry, you can’t vote because you’ve already voted.’ So they had to go back and sort of work with the city to literally pull the vote out of the telephone system to have it reset.”

He acknowledges that methods like online voting could also reduce barriers, but he says the security risks outweigh the benefits.

“We can’t make this a zero-sum game between accessibility and cybersecurity. We have to have both.”

Lepofsky also mentioned that accessible voting machines are used in some places, but that they have had problems with reliability in the past.

Elections Canada says the voting methods used by Canadians are prescribed in the Canada Elections Act. Changes to the way votes are cast would require authorization from Parliament, typically in the form of legislative change.

“I don’t believe that we need to just accept the status quo, replete with disability barriers or do nothing,” said Lepofsky.



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Lack of accessible, private election voting options violates Charter, blind lawyer says – National | Globalnews.ca


David Lepofsky was not able to mark his choice independently on the mail-in ballot Elections Canada sent to him because he is blind.

He opted to not vote in person with his wife because she has a serious immune limitation and they don’t want to risk being infected with COVID-19.

Lepofsky, who is a lawyer advocating for accessibility for disabled people, said the voting options available for blind people don’t allow them to cast their ballots privately.

Read more:
How to vote by mail in the 2021 Canada election

He said the lack of accessible voting options is a violation of section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which requires equal protection and benefit of the law to those living with mental or physical disabilities.

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“This is just awful,” he said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“The basic right we’re all supposed to enjoy is the right to mark our own ballot in private and to mark it independently, or ourselves, and to be able to verify this mark the way we want. And I currently don’t have that as a blind person at the federal level.”

Elections Canada responded to his complaint on Twitter on Sunday saying the agency recognizes “the special ballot process is not ideal for an elector who is unable to mark their ballot independently.”


Click to play video: 'Final day of advance voting and changes to polling stations'







Final day of advance voting and changes to polling stations


Final day of advance voting and changes to polling stations

Lepofsky said describing the situation as being “not ideal” is an “offensive understatement” because the mail-in ballots are not accessible.

He said the other option of voting in-person at a polling station also would not allow him to vote in private because an Elections Canada officer would have to read and verify his voting choice.

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An Elections Canada spokesperson said those who provide assistance to voters must take oaths to protect the secrecy of those ballots.

“In the case of a poll worker, oaths are taken as part of the job when they provide assistance to an elector,” Matthew McKenna said in a statement.

Read more:
It’s time to vote: Advanced polling opening to Canadians during pandemic election

According to Statistics Canada, about three per cent of Canadians aged 15 years and older, or about 750,000 people, have a seeing disability that limits their daily activities and 5.8 per cent of this group are legally blind.

Lepofsky, who is the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said his group sent a letter last month to all main federal parties asking for 12 commitments on accessibility, including one on accessibility of the electoral process.

“Only one leader has answered us. And that is (NDP Leader) Jagmeet Singh,” he said.

“We don’t support anyone or oppose anyone. We try to get the strongest commitments we can, but we have not even gotten an answer from (Liberal Leader) Justin Trudeau or (Conservative Leader) Erin O’Toole.”


Click to play video: 'Canada election: Impact of COVID-19 on voting in advance polls'







Canada election: Impact of COVID-19 on voting in advance polls


Canada election: Impact of COVID-19 on voting in advance polls

He said there should be voting options at the federal level for people with disabilities that allow them to vote without needing help from anyone. He said voting by phone through an automated system can be a good option.

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“In New Zealand, they have a phone-in ballot which is not internet-connected. That’s available for voters with vision loss. There are different options around the world but we are lagging way behind,” he said.

“We’re in the dark ages.”

Last year, Elections BC provided a telephone voting option for voters who are unable to vote independently, including people who have vision loss, those who have a disability or an underlying health condition that prevents them from voting independently and those who were self-isolating during the last week of the campaign and unable to vote by mail.

Read more:
Unhappy with the federal candidates? Your voting options may be limited

McKenna said introducing other voting options requires a law change.

“Changes to the way Canadians vote, including telephone voting, would in almost all cases require authorization from Parliament, typically in the form of legislative change,” he said.

“When assessing new voting processes or services, we undertake significant planning and testing to ensure that the new option is accessible, and that the confidentiality, secrecy, reliability and integrity of the vote are preserved.”

___

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.




© 2021 The Canadian Press





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Canadians With Disabilities Say They’re Missing from the Election Discussion


Jeremiah Rodriguez
CTVNews.ca Writer
Published Thursday, September 9, 2021

TORONTO — Federal party leaders aren’t listening enough to the concerns of disabled Canadians, advocates say. They say key priorities missing from campaign pledges include equitable emergency relief, stronger housing, and workplace policies that address all types of disabilities.

Sarah Jama, co-founder of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario, said this lack of scope boils down to a “lack of understanding of what systemic ableism looks like.”

“Nothing is prioritized by the government unless there’s people campaigning behind it,” she told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.

She said this could be partially addressed by having more disabled candidates running for office or being key parts of campaign decision-making. Jama said people in power don’t always make appreciate just how many Canadians have some form of a disability.

Disabled people make up approximately 22 per cent of Canada’s entire population. And between 62 and 75 per cent of people with disabilities have disabilities which aren’t immediately apparent, such as deafness, blindness or autism.

One of the biggest issues that Jama says hasn’t received enough attention during this campaign is overhauling care for vulnerable people who currently receive care at home or live in long-term care homes.

Jama said she likes the NDP’s platform commitments to end the private long-term care home system, but wants to see the next government go even beyond that.

“We need to reimagine what long-term care looks like in Canada,” she said. She said she wishes party leaders put forth policies that give vulnerable people more affordable options to receive care at home, keeping them out of long-term care facilities.

Jama also said “it’s also embarrassing” that Canada doesn’t yet have universal pharmacare, and that she wishes all parties agreed that it was essential, especially for people with disabilities.

Both the NDP and the Greens have advocated for a national pharmacare program that would provide prescription drug coverage for all Canadians and permanent residents. And while the Liberals have spent the past few years saying they’re moving forward on pharmacare, their platform only notes existing progress on the file, including the signing of the first provincial-territorial agreement to accelerate its implementation. The Conservatives haven’t endorsed a national pharmacare plan but, in their platform, they promise to negotiate with the pharmaceutical industry to reduce drug prices.

Jama also called for more concrete provisions for disabled people during natural disasters, to ensure they’re prioritized during evacuations.

Many disability advocates have also been critical of recent expansion of access to medical assistance in dying (MAID). They argue that instead of making it easier for disabled people to die, the government should be working to make workplaces and housing more functional for them.

Jama says she supports the parts of the Conservative platform around strengthening protections for disabled people when it comes to MAID, including reinstating the 10-day waiting period, to ensure decisions aren’t made at people’s lowest point. No other major party references further adjustments to MAID in its platform.

ACCESIBILITY TO HOUSING, WORKPLACES TOO MUCH AN ‘AFTERTHOUGHT’
Thea Kurdi, vice president of DesignABLE Environments INC, told CTV’s Your Morning that the situation for disabled people is “much worse than non-disabled people suspect.”

She said accessibility in housing or workplace policies is too often treated as an “afterthought,” instead of a priority aligning with Canada’s commitments to the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Kurdi said that too often, although wheelchair access is prioritized, spaces aren’t also made to be truly accessible to deaf, blind or autistic people. Making spaces accessible for visually-impaired people for example, can mean ensuring braille materials or screen-reading software are available; and, for people with hearing concerns, ensuring there are clear fonts in materials and phone or video relay services.

Jama said any parties’ affordable housing policies must address accessibility concerns but only the Greens and NDP have explicitly connected the two.

The Greens are calling for housing developments receiving federal funding to ensure that 30 per cent of all units are affordable and/or available to people with disabilities. The NDP has advocated for accessibility in housing as well.

The Liberals’ platform says only that affordable housing should keep people with disabilities in mind, while the Conservatives haven’t explicitly linked housing and accessibility in their platform.

ACCESSIBLE CANADA ACT STILL TOO WEAK: ADVOCATE
David Lepofsky, the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said people with disabilities were left out of decision-making throughout the pandemic, including when it came to recovery programs and vaccine prioritization.

“We’ve disproportionately suffered the consequences of the pandemic, and disproportionately been left out of the proper planning for urgent needs during the pandemic,” he told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday. He cited the federal government’s one-time payment took months to get to recipients.

Lepofsky also said that the Accessible Canada Act, which passed two years ago, is still far too weak because it doesn’t include enforceable regulations nor adequate compensation for victims of discrimination.

“We’ve written all the parties to ask them if they will strengthen and offered 12 ways to make things better,” said Lepofsky. Only the NDP responded and pledged to make many of the commitments, he said.

Lepofsky said Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau – who promised ambitious implementation of the act – and his government have been “dragging their feet.”

As for Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole, he hasn’t pledged to make any of the commitments put forth by Lepofsky’s advocacy group —
despite the fact that during parliamentary debates in 2018, his party said it would strengthen the Accessible Canada Act, if the Liberals didn’t.

“We’re not partisan. We want all of the party leaders to make those commitments,” he said.

Original at https://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/federal-election-2021/canadians-with-disabilities-say-they-re-missing-from-the-election-discussion-1.5577558




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In this Close Election, Will Erin O’Toole Stand By the Tories’ 2018 Pledge in the House of Commons to Strengthen the Accessible Canada Act?


ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
NEWS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 8, 2021 Toronto: Will Erin O’Toole’s Tories keep their three-year-old pledge to six million people with disabilities in Canada to strengthen the 2018 Accessible Canada Act? Voters with disabilities await an answer from all the federal parties except the NDP on whether they would strengthen that legislation, enacted to make Canada accessible to people with disabilities by 2040.

When Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act, was before Parliament in 2018, the NDP and Conservatives proposed lists of much-needed amendments to strengthen it, at the request of disability advocates including the non-partisan AODA Alliance. The governing Liberals used their majority in the House to defeat most if not all of those amendments.

During those debates, the Conservatives, including Erin O’Toole himself, argued that Bill C-81 was too weak, and commended disability advocates’ criticisms of that bill, including those from the AODA Alliance. (See quotations below) Tory MP John Barlow resolutely pledged during Third Reading debates on November 22, 2018 that if the Tories form the next Government, they will strengthen it. Among the key excerpts, set out below, Tory MP John Barlow said this:

Therefore, my promise to those Canadians in the disabilities community across the country is that when a Conservative government comes into power, we will do everything we can to address the shortcomings of Bill C-81. I know how much work they have put into this proposed legislation. I know how much time and effort they put in working with us on the committee. I know what their vision was for Bill C-81. Unfortunately, this falls short. We will not make that same mistake in 2019.

With this election looming, On August 3, 2021, the non-partisan AODA Alliance wrote all party leaders, seeking 12 commitments on accessibility for people with disabilities, including the passage of those defeated amendments. On September 4, 2021, the NDP wrote the AODA Alliance, promising to pass all their amendments to the Accessible Canada Act, proposed in 2018. None of the other party leaders have responded so far.

“In such an extremely close election, all party leaders have even more reason to promise to strengthen the Accessible Canada Act and to speed up its sluggish implementation,” said David Lepofsky, chair of the AODA Alliance, a grassroots disability accessibility advocacy coalition. “It was great that in 2018 the Tories including Erin O’Toole pressed to get the Federal Government to strengthen the Accessible Canada Act. We’re eager for Mr. O’Toole to now reaffirm the solemn pledge his party made three years ago to strengthen this legislation if the Tories are elected.”

The non-partisan AODA Alliance does not support or oppose any party. It is campaigning to get all the federal parties to make strong commitments on disability accessibility. So far, the federal Liberals, Conservatives, Green Party, and Bloc Quebecois have not made any of the 12 disability accessibility pledges that the AODA Alliance requested of them in its August 3, 2021 letter.

Contact: David Lepofsky, [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance For background, check out:
The AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 letter to all federal party leaders. The New Democratic Party’s September 4, 2021 letter to the AODA Alliance.
The AODA Alliance’s August 24, 2021 news release slamming the Federal Government’s grant of up to 7.5 million dollars for the Rick Hansen Foundation’s problem-ridden private accessibility certification and training program.
The AODA Alliance website’s Canada page, setting out its efforts since 2015 to secure the enactment and effective implementation of the Accessible Canada Act.

Excerpts from Parliamentary Debates on Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act

Second Reading Debates in the House of Commons on September 24, 2018

Originally posted at https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/read-what-was-said-during-the-second-day-of-second-reading-debates-in-the-house-of-commons-on-bill-c-81-the-proposed-accessible-canada-act-september-24-2018/

Hon. Erin O’Toole (Durham, CPC):

Madam Speaker, the member from the NDP mentioned David Lepofsky. He has been a leading advocate for a barrier-free Canada and is probably one of the best examples of thoughtful advocacy I have seen in my time in public life. I recall him teaching, in my bar admission course in Ontario, through the Law Society of Upper Canada, issues related to people facing disabilities. I want to thank Mr. Lepofsky. He is also quite tenacious on social media in making sure that these issues are not forgotten.

The member highlighted a number of the areas where this falls short. All parties, I think, want to see fewer barriers, more engagement and more opportunities for people. The fact is, and this is what Mr. Lepofsky’s group has also highlighted, the government provides the ability for itself to set standards or regulations but sets no timeline for the government to lead by example with respect to future plans for its infrastructure in future federal jurisdiction areas, such as ports, airports and these sorts of things. Is that lack of a timeline and a commitment to federal leadership something the member feels is a bit of a shortcoming in Bill C-81?

Third Reading Debates in the House of Commons on November 22, 2018

Posted at https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/transcript-of-the-2nd-and-final-day-of-third-reading-debates-on-bill-c-81-the-proposed-accessible-canada-act-in-the-house-of-commons-on-november-22-2018/

Erin O’Toole Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am concerned by the comments from the Liberal parliamentary secretary suggesting my colleague and friend is misleading people. I spoke to my friend just yesterday about the conversation I had last week with David Lepofsky, probably the most prominent Canadian in terms of disability advocacy. He has the Order of Ontario and Order of Canada, as a constitutional lawyer and disability advocate.

What my friend is saying to the House today is exactly what is being said by people like David Lepofsky. One of the things I heard from him was the fact that there is no end date for accessibility within Bill C-81, no timeline. Ontario has set a 20-year goal of making sure accessibility is paramount. The other thing I heard from him was that there is no clear commitment in Bill C-81 to ensure no infrastructure dollars would go to new projects unless accessibility is at the centre of the project. There are no timelines and no teeth.

The Liberal member is suggesting that my friend is misleading Canadians. This is what disability advocates are asking for. Will my friend comment on the fact that we have an opportunity with Bill C-81 to get it right, if only the Liberals will listen?

Alex Nuttall BarrieSpringwaterOro-Medonte, ON

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I want to commit to the member that we will get it right, right after the next election. This will be among the first things we ensure we put right, because it is concerning the most vulnerable Canadians. It is interesting the member brought up Mr. Lepofsky, because he said the following:

…the bill that is now before you is very strong on good intentions but very weak on implementation and enforcement…When you come to vote on amendments before this committee and when you go back to your caucuses to decide what position you’re going to take, we urge you not simply to think of the immediate political expediency of today; we do urge you to think about the imminent election a year from now and the needs of the minority of everyone, for whom no party or politician can go soft.

Those are the words of Mr. Lepofsky. It is unfortunate that the Liberal Party did not listen to them.

John Barlow Foothills, AB

We mentioned David Lepofsky today who is with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. I really want to put in his comment here today. He said:

The bill that is now before you is very strong on good intentions but very weak on implementation and enforcement…When you come to vote on amendments before this committee and when you go back to your caucuses to decide what position you’re going to take, we urge you not simply to think of the immediate political expediency of today; we do urge you to think about the imminent election a year from now and the needs of the minority of everyone, for whom no party or politician can go soft.

Mr. Lepofsky was speaking for Canadians across the country asking us as parliamentarians to not get cold feet. This is an opportunity to make some substantial, historic change for Canadians with disabilities, and we failed.

I have to share a little of the frustration on this, as we will be voting in support of Bill C-81. For those organizations, those stakeholders listening today, the reason we are voting in support of Bill C-81 is certainly not because we agree with it. In fact, I have outlined today in my speech the many reasons why we are not. We heard from the stakeholders time and time again of their disappointment. But their comments were always that, although it fell well short of what they wanted, it was a start, and I will grant them that, it is a start.

I know they were expecting much more from the minister, the Liberal government and from us as members of that committee. Therefore, my promise to those Canadians in the disabilities community across the country is that when a Conservative government comes into power, we will do everything we can to address the shortcomings of Bill C-81. I know how much work they have put into this proposed legislation. I know how much time and effort they put in working with us on the committee. I know what their vision was for Bill C-81. Unfortunately, this falls short. We will not make that same mistake in 2019.




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In this Close Election, Will Erin O’Toole Stand By the Tories’ 2018 Pledge in the House of Commons to Strengthen the Accessible Canada Act?


ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

NEWS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

In this Close Election, Will Erin O’Toole Stand By the Tories’ 2018 Pledge in the House of Commons to Strengthen the Accessible Canada Act?

September 8, 2021 Toronto: Will Erin O’Toole’s Tories keep their three-year-old pledge to six million people with disabilities in Canada to strengthen the 2018 Accessible Canada Act? Voters with disabilities await an answer from all the federal parties except the NDP on whether they would strengthen that legislation, enacted to make Canada accessible to people with disabilities by 2040.

When Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act, was before Parliament in 2018, the NDP and Conservatives proposed lists of much-needed amendments to strengthen it, at the request of disability advocates including the non-partisan AODA Alliance. The governing Liberals used their majority in the House to defeat most if not all of those amendments.

During those debates, the Conservatives, including Erin O’Toole himself, argued that Bill C-81 was too weak, and commended disability advocates’ criticisms of that bill, including those from the AODA Alliance. (See quotations below) Tory MP John Barlow resolutely pledged during Third Reading debates on November 22, 2018 that if the Tories form the next Government, they will strengthen it. Among the key excerpts, set out below, Tory MP John Barlow said this:

Therefore, my promise to those Canadians in the disabilities community across the country is that when a Conservative government comes into power, we will do everything we can to address the shortcomings of Bill C-81. I know how much work they have put into this proposed legislation. I know how much time and effort they put in working with us on the committee. I know what their vision was for Bill C-81. Unfortunately, this falls short. We will not make that same mistake in 2019.

With this election looming, On August 3, 2021, the non-partisan AODA Alliance wrote all party leaders, seeking 12 commitments on accessibility for people with disabilities, including the passage of those defeated amendments. On September 4, 2021, the NDP wrote the AODA Alliance, promising to pass all their amendments to the Accessible Canada Act, proposed in 2018. None of the other party leaders have responded so far.

“In such an extremely close election, all party leaders have even more reason to promise to strengthen the Accessible Canada Act and to speed up its sluggish implementation,” said David Lepofsky, chair of the AODA Alliance, a grassroots disability accessibility advocacy coalition. “It was great that in 2018 the Tories including Erin O’Toole pressed to get the Federal Government to strengthen the Accessible Canada Act. We’re eager for Mr. O’Toole to now reaffirm the solemn pledge his party made three years ago to strengthen this legislation if the Tories are elected.”

The non-partisan AODA Alliance does not support or oppose any party. It is campaigning to get all the federal parties to make strong commitments on disability accessibility. So far, the federal Liberals, Conservatives, Green Party, and Bloc Quebecois have not made any of the 12 disability accessibility pledges that the AODA Alliance requested of them in its August 3, 2021 letter.

Contact: David Lepofsky, [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance

For background, check out:

The AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 letter to all federal party leaders.

The New Democratic Party’s September 4, 2021 letter to the AODA Alliance.

The AODA Alliance’s August 24, 2021 news release slamming the Federal Government’s grant of up to 7.5 million dollars for the Rick Hansen Foundation’s problem-ridden private accessibility certification and training program.

The AODA Alliance website’s Canada page, setting out its efforts since 2015 to secure the enactment and effective implementation of the Accessible Canada Act.

Excerpts from Parliamentary Debates on Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act

Second Reading Debates in the House of Commons on September 24, 2018

Originally posted at https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/read-what-was-said-during-the-second-day-of-second-reading-debates-in-the-house-of-commons-on-bill-c-81-the-proposed-accessible-canada-act-september-24-2018/

Hon. Erin O’Toole (Durham, CPC):

Madam Speaker, the member from the NDP mentioned David Lepofsky. He has been a leading advocate for a barrier-free Canada and is probably one of the best examples of thoughtful advocacy I have seen in my time in public life. I recall him teaching, in my bar admission course in Ontario, through the Law Society of Upper Canada, issues related to people facing disabilities. I want to thank Mr. Lepofsky. He is also quite tenacious on social media in making sure that these issues are not forgotten.

The member highlighted a number of the areas where this falls short. All parties, I think, want to see fewer barriers, more engagement and more opportunities for people. The fact is, and this is what Mr. Lepofsky’s group has also highlighted, the government provides the ability for itself to set standards or regulations but sets no timeline for the government to lead by example with respect to future plans for its infrastructure in future federal jurisdiction areas, such as ports, airports and these sorts of things. Is that lack of a timeline and a commitment to federal leadership something the member feels is a bit of a shortcoming in Bill C-81?

Third Reading Debates in the House of Commons on November 22, 2018

Posted at https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/transcript-of-the-2nd-and-final-day-of-third-reading-debates-on-bill-c-81-the-proposed-accessible-canada-act-in-the-house-of-commons-on-november-22-2018/

Erin O’Toole Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am concerned by the comments from the Liberal parliamentary secretary suggesting my colleague and friend is misleading people. I spoke to my friend just yesterday about the conversation I had last week with David Lepofsky, probably the most prominent Canadian in terms of disability advocacy. He has the Order of Ontario and Order of Canada, as a constitutional lawyer and disability advocate.

What my friend is saying to the House today is exactly what is being said by people like David Lepofsky. One of the things I heard from him was the fact that there is no end date for accessibility within Bill C-81, no timeline. Ontario has set a 20-year goal of making sure accessibility is paramount. The other thing I heard from him was that there is no clear commitment in Bill C-81 to ensure no infrastructure dollars would go to new projects unless accessibility is at the centre of the project. There are no timelines and no teeth.

The Liberal member is suggesting that my friend is misleading Canadians. This is what disability advocates are asking for. Will my friend comment on the fact that we have an opportunity with Bill C-81 to get it right, if only the Liberals will listen?

Alex Nuttall Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte, ON

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I want to commit to the member that we will get it right, right after the next election. This will be among the first things we ensure we put right, because it is concerning the most vulnerable Canadians. It is interesting the member brought up Mr. Lepofsky, because he said the following:

…the bill that is now before you is very strong on good intentions but very weak on implementation and enforcement…When you come to vote on amendments before this committee and when you go back to your caucuses to decide what position you’re going to take, we urge you not simply to think of the immediate political expediency of today; we do urge you to think about the imminent election a year from now and the needs of the minority of everyone, for whom no party or politician can go soft.

Those are the words of Mr. Lepofsky. It is unfortunate that the Liberal Party did not listen to them.

John Barlow Foothills, AB

We mentioned David Lepofsky today who is with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. I really want to put in his comment here today. He said:

The bill that is now before you is very strong on good intentions but very weak on implementation and enforcement…When you come to vote on amendments before this committee and when you go back to your caucuses to decide what position you’re going to take, we urge you not simply to think of the immediate political expediency of today; we do urge you to think about the imminent election a year from now and the needs of the minority of everyone, for whom no party or politician can go soft.

Mr. Lepofsky was speaking for Canadians across the country asking us as parliamentarians to not get cold feet. This is an opportunity to make some substantial, historic change for Canadians with disabilities, and we failed.

I have to share a little of the frustration on this, as we will be voting in support of Bill C-81. For those organizations, those stakeholders listening today, the reason we are voting in support of Bill C-81 is certainly not because we agree with it. In fact, I have outlined today in my speech the many reasons why we are not. We heard from the stakeholders time and time again of their disappointment. But their comments were always that, although it fell well short of what they wanted, it was a start, and I will grant them that, it is a start.

I know they were expecting much more from the minister, the Liberal government and from us as members of that committee. Therefore, my promise to those Canadians in the disabilities community across the country is that when a Conservative government comes into power, we will do everything we can to address the shortcomings of Bill C-81. I know how much work they have put into this proposed legislation. I know how much time and effort they put in working with us on the committee. I know what their vision was for Bill C-81. Unfortunately, this falls short. We will not make that same mistake in 2019.



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