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Meeting Summary – Annual General Meeting – June 20 and 21, 2016

Advisory Group for Disability Issues Presentation

Five members of Elections Canada's Advisory Group for Disability Issues (the Advisory Group) presented their experiences during the last general election, described some of the barriers faced by electors with disabilities and suggested ways to improve the political participation of Canadians with disabilities.

The Advisory Group thanked ACPP members for inviting them to come and discuss the involvement of persons with disabilities in the political process, and pointed out that voting is just one part of democratic participation. They mentioned that Canadians with disabilities represent a large portion of the population, and that if political parties do not include them in every aspect of their work, they can potentially lose a lot of support at the polls.

They also explained that the literacy rate in Canada is not as high as some may think. In fact, a significant amount of Canadian adults between 16 and 65 have low literacy skills, and the number increases after the age of 65. Given the rising population of seniors in Canada, this is something political parties should really consider while planning their campaigns, as literacy is involved in all political activities: signs, pamphlets, platforms, party position papers and voting. To ensure that the involvement of people with disabilities is a positive one, political parties need to look at all of their activities. Parties may have to bring people with disabilities in to do sensitivity training as people who have less environmental restrictions sometimes don't realize that they can offend people with language, gestures and treatment.

Website accessibility

The Advisory Group members informed ACPP members that the majority of federal political party's websites are inaccessible to persons who are blind and print disabled, and the same could be said for the majority of websites of MPs. This means that a growing group of Canadians are unable to get important information about federal parties and their candidates during an election. Therefore, Canadians with a print disability cannot make informed decisions when it comes to choosing from among federal parties and their candidates.

In order to level the playing field for Canadians with a print disability, there needs to be a conscientious initiative to build awareness. All stakeholders should define strategies and ways to make websites more accessible. Website accessibility should be a team effort between MPs, federal parties and members of the print disabled community.

Sign language

The Advisory Group members addressed how to make an inclusive and accessible Canada for deaf and hard of hearing people, so they can participate in the political and electoral process.

Sign language is recognized seven times in five different articles through the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In Canada, deaf people use American Sign Language (ASL) and Langue des signes québécoise (LSQ). Providing information in sign languages would foster an inclusive and accessible democratic process where deaf and hard of hearing voters could make their own political choices.

To ensure that deaf and hard of hearing Canadians can fully participate in democracy, political parties should provide sign language interpretation at all candidates' meetings, candidates' events and federal leaders' debates. To ensure that their videos are accessible, parties should ensure they include sign language interpretation in ASL and LSQ, as well as closed captioning in English and French.

The Advisory Group also noted that it is difficult for a deaf or hard of hearing person to become a candidate for a political party because there are no accessibility accommodation funds to reimburse expenses incurred for accessibility measures.

Plain language

Plain language is an accommodation right for many people with disabilities, just like door openers, ramps and ASL interpretation. Providing information in plain language also benefits other groups such as seniors, new Canadians, people with low literacy skills, and others who may have barriers to language and printed information. Providing pictures of the candidates on ballots is another step in plain language as the information is provided in both words and pictures. Many people with intellectual disabilities find it easier to understand information when there is a visual element to further explain the text.

A large portion of Canadians labelled with an intellectual disability cannot read, making it even more relevant to include photos of candidates on ballots. This issue is a key priority in the area of the secret and independent vote, and also in the priority of addressing full access to the entire electoral process. In order for people with intellectual disabilities to fully participate in the election process, they need to know who the candidates are from the very beginning of the process, right up to when they cast their ballot.

General accessibility and recommendations

Accessibility also means ensuring physical access to buildings and locations. Election-related events should be held in a physically accessible place, and information about accessibility should be easy to find in the invitation. Parties and candidates should learn about disability issues and seek advice from experts from the disability community.

The Advisory Group suggested that parties should hire a person involved in accessibility and inclusion of people with disabilities, or appoint volunteers who would be dedicated to disability issues. Political parties should also be encouraged to hire people with disabilities and make sure that they provide the necessary accommodations to their employees with disabilities.

Accessibility measures should be planned before launching an election campaign, and the necessary resources should be allocated to implementing the accessibility plan.

Conclusion

Canadians with disabilities simply want to be informed and included in any information strategy, including alternate formats and plain language. They want physical access to places where candidates and elected officials are holding events and to their offices. They want to participate with the parties before, during and after the election. They want to be potential employees of candidates and MPs. They want to be candidates. In essence, Canadians with disabilities want to be included in a dignified manner that uses their strengths and accommodates barriers caused by inaccessible environments, activities and attitudes.

Round table discussion

ACPP members sought clarification on video accessibility requirements, more specifically around closed captioning and sign language interpretation, and whether both are necessary or equally accessible. The Advisory Group explained that the deaf community has identified sign language as its primary language. Captioning is very inclusive and also benefits the hard of hearing community and people with low literacy skills. For a 30-second clip, captioning is sufficient. Including both captioning and sign language interpretation helps with content for videos longer than 30 seconds. Video accessibility also includes descriptive audio, which describes contextual details that are not understandable through audio components. The Advisory Group also informed ACPP members that adding captioning through automated software should be avoided, as their captions can be really off; for instance, "deaf" sometimes is written as "dead."

ACPP members also asked how they could help the disability community find their videos online. The Advisory Group suggested hiring specialized companies to do descriptive audio. Coding and encrypting techniques can also help identify whether content is accessible. Accessibility of a website starts with the web designer, the developer and then the tester. The Advisory Group also further described the components that make a website accessible. It all has to do with the ability for someone to navigate independently, without asking for assistance. There are standards that can be used, such as colour contrast, background, text size, font, plain language, using Word documents instead of PDF, removing acronyms, etc.

There was a question about pictures on ballots, and whether it could lead to discrimination and racism. The Advisory Group answered that, without a picture, it makes it impossible for some people to vote. Pictures of the candidates can already be found on posters, flyers and websites. The main concern should be electoral participation.

Finally, the Advisory Group encouraged political parties to work with the disability community to raise awareness and remove the barriers to electoral participation.