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Barriers Violate Your Right to Vote

March 17, 2014

Elections Canada encourages you to vote. Unfortunately, polling stations do not deliver the barrier-free experience government promises. Having physical and attitudinal barriers impede your ability to vote is a violation of your rights as a Canadian.

Identify obstacles Canadians with disabilities face when trying to vote and brainstorm ways we can rise above these challenges.

Life sustaining Therapies Qualify for Disability Tax Credit Barriers Violate Your Right to Vote

Architectural and Physical Barriers

As the majority of polling stations are found in schools, churches, and municipal buildings, there is always room to improve accessibility. Problems often lie in these areas:

• Unsafe ramp grades and slopes
• Lack of grab bars, handrails and resting areas inside and outside
• Soft or unstable surfaces to move across and write on
• Narrow sidewalks and pathways
• Heavy entrance doors
• Polling booths that are proper height
• Polling booths that are private enough, even with a person sitting or leaning
• Indoor pedestrian flow that is straightforward and doesn’t limit access or become confusing

Attitudinal and Cultural Barriers

Even with diversity training, there are still a number of attitudinal barriers that prevent people with disabilities from experiencing the same voting processes as other citizens. Attitudinal barriers crumble under the weight of exposure. Let’s shine a light on some of these toxic attitudes:

• Negative backlash – try to ‘even the score’ because people with disabilities receive ‘unfair’ advantages
• Denial – refuse to believe that invisible disabilities represent legitimate concern
• Fear – many people are afraid that they will do or say the ‘wrong’ thing and avoid this discomfort by avoiding people with disabilities
• Superiority or Patronization – some people believe that one person is not as good as other citizens because of his or her impairment
• Negative Stereotypes – assume that disability is all-encompassing (i.e. deaf people can’t read, blind people can’t hear)

Informational and Communication Barriers

• Lack of interpreter/intervener services
• Lack of accessible public telephones, TTYs and other adaptive devices (e.g., adaptive media, FM and InfraRed systems in public facilities)
• Unclear verbal instruction
• Information/instructions written without the use of plain, clear language
• Lack of emergency bells, sirens and audible signals
• Lack of enhanced listening systems
• Insufficient use of contrasting colours, raised letters and characters on most signage
• Poor indoor lighting
• Excessive background noise
• Lack of textural or tactile surfaces
• Protruding objects that overhang the path of travel (like wall-mounted light fixtures)
• Unavailable public documents and signage in alternative formats

Legal and Policy Barriers

Barriers to regulation and policy formation include:

• Lack of access to information and special services
• Lack of time or resources for problem solving and strategizing
• Impatience with difficulties in comprehension and/or expression of written and/or spoken language
• Unavailability of public documents/signage in alternative formats
• Advisory groups that are created on behalf of persons with disabilities without including representatives of the demographic

Socioeconomic Barriers

Perhaps the most subtle barrier is socioeconomic. Related obstacles inhibit a person with a disability from arriving at the voting booth, prepared and proud to be a participant in his or her civic duty. Such barriers may include:

• Not enough time to get from work to the polling station and back (it may require taking a day off of work without pay)
• Not having a caregiver willing to accompany as needed
• Not understanding what the voting process is for and how voting can effect change

Long after the disability rights movement, barriers still impede people with disabilities from voting. A wide range of barriers which includes architectural and physical, attitudinal and cultural, informational and communication, and socioeconomics prohibit people with disabilities from empowerment and effecting change.

What barriers have YOU encountered in your quest to fulfil your civic rights and responsibilities?

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