On October 19th, Canadians will be casting their votes in the federal election; we may have a new Prime Minister by week’s end. I am not qualified to dissect each Party’s platform with an in-depth analysis – I studied politics in twelfth grade and then I studied political philosophy in university, hardly enough background to have any authority. What I can comment on is the place that accessibility issues occupy in each Party’s platform – and that, as far as I can tell, is no place at all.
I took a brief look at the websites for the Conservatives, Liberals and the NDP and I saw nothing that spoke directly to disability issues. There are basic umbrella issues of health care, personal care, transit, affordable housing and so on, which may tangentially loop back to issues that affect Canadians with disabilities, but there is no dedicated focus from any of the Parties on issues of accessibility. I get it: disability issues aren’t sexy and they’re not attention grabbing headliners – but I’ve been saying for my entire life that disability is one of the largest and the most overlooked minorities and this is a perfect example of what I mean.
Issues of accessibility do not just pertain to citizens with disabilities; accessibility affects senior citizens, parents with strollers, people dealing with temporary injuries... the list could go on and on. I’m sadly resigned to the fact that a lot of the issues facing people with disabilities will never be as high of a priority as they should be. People with disabilities will continue to be underrepresented until we sit ourselves in front of those in power and demand to be heard. There are a few notable Canadians who’ve made a living doing this and I applaud them and thank them for their tirelessness. Leading a social revolution is not easy.
A recent article published by the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) points out that Canadians with disabilities face barriers in voting due to lack of accessibility at polling stations. The article details an incident in 2010 when a man who relied on the use of a walker was forced to “enter an inaccessible polling station by sliding down a set of stairs on his behind. The setup he encountered at the bottom was also too narrow to accommodate would-be voters with mobility aids. When a general election was called mere months later, the same polling station was still in use, barriers and all.” There is no excuse for this whatsoever. This incident was brought to the attention of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, who has been working with Elections Canada to make sure this type of thing doesn’t happen again.
One suggestion Elections Canada has is that voters with disabilities take advantage of advance polling days, to make the process quicker and easier. I have seen several reactions from people with disabilities refusing to do this, saying that it is their right to vote on October 19th just like everyone else. Okay, yes, it is. Let me play devil’s advocate for a second: The advance polls don’t exist for the exclusive need of Canadians with disabilities; they’re available to everyone. So, if you are able to vote on an advance polling date, when it will most likely be easier, why wouldn’t you? I would understand the sentiment of outrage if people with disabilities were being excluded and told that they were only allowed to vote on advance poll dates and would be turned away on Election Day. But that’s not the message at all. No one is saying that people with disabilities are not allowed to vote on Election Day –they’re simply saying that voters with disabilities might have an easier time on advance poll days.
I voted on an advance poll day because it was easier and because I could. There was no crowd; I didn’t feel rushed and the polling station I was at had clear signage to the elevator and automatic doors. I quite liked being able to vote when things were quiet and calm. I certainly didn’t feel like my civil rights were being violated because I voted on an advance poll day; in my mind, to think such a thing would be utterly ridiculous.
Layla Guse Salah