City of St. Catharines Plans for an Inclusive Election Experience

Posted October 1, 2010

An election website that talks to users.

Tables that stand at different heights.

Advance polls located on accessible transit routes and more accessible parking reserved for people with disabilities at polling stations.

These are just some of the changes that have been made this municipal election to make the democratic process even more inclusive.

“Accessibility has become an increasing priority simply because we’re an aging population,” said Diana Lecinski, the city’s accessibility co-ordinator.

“In Ontario, up to 15.5 per cent of people have a disability. By increasing accessibility, you alleviate barriers for everyone.”

Finding out what some of those past barriers were started after the 2006 election.

City staff worked with the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Accessibility, which provided feedback on issues that arose when people headed to vote in previous elections.

As a result, some polling stations were dropped from the roster and more accessible locations added.

“We looked at everything from the Facilities Accessibilities Design Standards checklist, the updated building code and for accessibility, said Karen Ellison, the city’s election co-ordinator.

“We’re trying to make this a superior experience.”

Vote tabulators at advance polls have also been made easier to use with large tactile buttons that have Braille labels and contrasting colours for people with visual impairments.

Assistive devices, such as sip and puff and foot paddles, are available for voters with dexterity issues to use to make selections on ballots.

Advance poll locations have been added in different corners of the city to make it easier for voters to cast ballots.

Because of their accessibility features, voters with a disability are encouraged to vote at advance polls, Lecinski said.

All elections staff have also been trained in accessible customer service standards.

Also pamphlets containing the City’s accessible election policies and procedures have been given to every candidate to keep them apprised of what’s being done to get voters to the polls.

People with disabilities who aren’t able to get to a voting location can appoint another person to act as a voting proxy and cast a ballot on their behalf.

“From a traditional voting point of view, we want to prevent and remove barriers to get people in and get voting,” Lecinski said.

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