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Advisory Group for Disability Issues – Meeting Summary – April 23–24, 2015

About the Advisory Group for Disability Issues

The Advisory Group for Disability Issues (“Advisory Group”) is mandated to:

Many Advisory Group members are leaders of organizations, invited as experts, and are participating in a personal capacity. The Advisory Group's composition reflects cross-disability perspectives; varied policy focus; and gender, linguistic and geographic diversity.

Executive Summary

The fourth meeting of the Advisory Group was held on April 23 and 24, 2015.

All Advisory Group members attended the fourth meeting. They are:

Kirstan Gagnon, Acting Manager, Stakeholder Engagement Services, chaired the meeting and its various sessions, provided updates on follow-up items and facilitated roundtable discussions throughout the course of the day.

The meeting's main accomplishments include:

The Advisory Group plans to meet after the general election. Its next meeting is scheduled for February or March 2016 in the National Capital Region.


Welcoming Remarks by the Meeting Chair

The meeting started with welcoming remarks from the meeting Chair, who restated the agency's commitment to ensuring that every eligible person has the opportunity to exercise his or her right to vote.

The Chair summarized the agency's work since the last Advisory Group meeting in November 2014. She explained that, since the last meeting, Elections Canada has met its readiness date of March 1 and has begun conducting returning officer training across the country.

The agency has also reviewed over 24,000 polling places against the agency's accessibility criteria and has started to implement a communications strategy for the 2015 general election. Members were informed that they would be updated on these items in the course of the two-day meeting.

The Chair highlighted that, with the Advisory Group's contributions, the agency has finalized its Accessibility Policy and Service Offering and posted it on the Elections Canada website.

The Chair emphasized some of the key messages that Advisory Group members are asked to bring back to their organizations and networks in order to ensure that Canadians are informed of where, when and ways to register and vote.

Additionally, Advisory Group members were asked to ensure that their memberships are aware of the potential impact of the electoral redistribution and the importance of providing feedback to continue making the voting process more accessible. Members were reminded that there are a number of ways to provide feedback, including completing a feedback form either online or at a polling place, calling Elections Canada, or speaking to an election worker.

The Chair also mentioned Elections Canada's outreach through Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. She encouraged Advisory Group members to follow the agency on social media and share its content.

Agenda Review and Roundtable

The Chair sought the Advisory Group's comments on the meeting summary from the third meeting. Suggested revisions were discussed and, pending the inclusion of these revisions, the third meeting's summary was considered approved.

The Chair then explained the goals of the fourth meeting and expressed the hope that the comments gathered that day would help Elections Canada better understand accessibility issues and identify the most effective activities to address them.

Visioning Process for the Future – Prioritization Exercise

With the help of Elections Canada delegates and a facilitator, the Advisory Group spent the remainder of the first day of the meeting working on a visioning process to identify fundamental priorities that the Advisory Group would like to see Elections Canada pursue beyond 2015.

In advance of the meeting and as a starting point for this exercise, Advisory Group members reviewed initial lists of themes, issues and activities. These lists were created using input and ideas from previous meetings, and they served as a launching point for discussion.

Documentation was distributed before the meeting outlining some of the considerations that Advisory Group members were asked to keep in mind when considering the items to put forward as priorities. Participants were asked to explore priorities that:

Over the course of the day, Advisory Group members and Elections Canada delegates were divided into groups to review and comment on the defined themes and issues. Potential activities were characterized as either administrative or legislative and were grouped by themes, as follows:

Throughout the morning, Advisory Group members elaborated on and qualified the list of themes and issues. They also discussed the advantages and potential limitations of the considerations that Elections Canada had suggested. For example, they discussed how some activities could be designed to meet the needs of people with a specific disability, so that not all activities would be required to adopt a universal approach.

The Advisory Group discussed whether it sees value in prioritizing accessibility issues. It was decided that because all of the listed issues are top priorities, the group's efforts should be focused on prioritizing potential activities to address the issues.

By midday, the participants agreed that they had validated and approved the issues and could move on to establishing priorities among the potential activities.

The goal of the afternoon exercise was to validate and refine the list of activities in order to agree on a full list from which the Advisory Group could establish priorities. Participants were asked to consider activities that would make the best strategic use of Elections Canada resources.

After an additional series of breakout sessions to reach an agreed-upon list of activities, the group used coloured notes to show the importance or level of priority that they would accord to each activity. This exercise was not intended to be a true vote, but rather a means to understand the thinking behind Advisory Group members' choices or positions.

The facilitator then led a discussion on the results of the exercise. Some clear trends emerged regarding those activities that the Advisory Group felt should be top accessibility priorities for Elections Canada beyond 2015.

The meeting Chair closed the first day by laying out the next steps in the visioning exercise. Prior to the next meeting, Elections Canada will summarize the group's findings on the highest priority activities and will then validate these summaries with the Advisory Group. A final report on the visioning exercise will then be tabled at a future meeting. 

Day 2 Opening Remarks by the Deputy Chief Electoral Officer

To open the second day of the meeting, Michel Roussel, Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, Electoral Events, addressed the Advisory Group. Mr. Roussel recognized Laurie Beachell, an Advisory Group member who will be retiring in June 2015, for his invaluable contribution to Elections Canada's first Advisory Group for Disability Issues. Mr. Roussel also recognized Mr. Beachell's long-standing commitment to accessibility and inclusion in Canada.

Mr. Roussel then explained that Elections Canada views the visioning process and prioritization exercise as an important undertaking that will help the agency understand the Advisory Group's ideas and develop ways to integrate them into future planning. He reiterated that the intent is that these priorities will also contribute to the Chief Electoral Officer's reports to Parliament following the 2015 general election.

Mr. Roussel expressed his hope that Advisory Group members will document their election observations, both in the lead-up to and during the election. He stated that, together with the visioning exercise, these observations will identify practical and operational considerations linked to the rollout of future elections.

Mr. Roussel also emphasized that, in parallel with their work on this Advisory Group, it is important that Advisory Group members continue to make their views known to parliamentarians. He closed by remarking that he, like the Chief Electoral Officer, sees the Advisory Group as a great resource for Elections Canada and that members' ideas, advice and feedback have become – and will continue to be – an integral part of federal election planning.

Advisory Group members and Elections Canada representatives discussed the value of members presenting their work to the Advisory Committee of Political Parties. 

Polling Site Accessibility Review

Following the wrap-up of the visioning exercise, Elections Canada took the opportunity to provide three brief updates to the Advisory Group.

Mariann Canning, Assistant Director, Accessibility and Outreach, presented the first update on Elections Canada's ongoing national survey of polling sites.

She explained that data has now been compiled from 25,000 polling site evaluations. Advisory Group members were reminded that, for the 42nd general election, Elections Canada will be evaluating polling locations against 35 accessibility criteria.

Ms. Canning then shared some preliminary results with Advisory Group members, and they were informed that returning officers will also be asked to look at possible mitigation measures prior to finalizing the survey.

Ms. Canning explained that Elections Canada will publish the results of the national survey on its website and will share the report with Advisory Group members. She also explained that one of the key outcomes of the survey is that Elections Canada's website will allow voters to look up the accessibility of their polling sites in order to determine in advance whether sites will meet their needs.

Advisory Group members congratulated Elections Canada on its efforts to ensure polling place accessibility.

Refresher: The Electoral Reminder Program and Communicating Accessibility During the Next General Election

Building upon the groundwork and discussions of earlier meetings, Kirstan Gagnon, Acting Manager, Stakeholder Engagement Services, provided a brief update to participants on Elections Canada's Electoral Reminder Program and the agency's plans for communicating accessibility during the next general election.

The focus of the update was to inform Advisory Group members of the ways they can contribute to Elections Canada's efforts to ensure that all eligible Canadians have the information they need on where, when and ways to register and vote. This included a discussion of the agency's e-bulletins that Advisory Group members will be asked to share with their networks.

Ms. Gagnon previewed the agency's upcoming voter-centric website and demonstrated some of the accessibility content. Participants were also shown some of the videos, in English, French, American Sign Language and Langue des signes québécoise, that have been produced to help explain the voting process.

Advisory Group members congratulated Elections Canada on its new initiatives and its new “Ready to Vote” brand. Discussion closed with a continuation of earlier discussions outlining some of the ways that Advisory Group members will contribute to finding all possible channels for distributing electoral information on when, where and ways to register and vote.

Evaluating the Electoral Reminder Program (Communications Campaign)

Miriam Lapp, Assistant Director, Outreach and Research, presented the work that Elections Canada will be undertaking to evaluate the agency's communications campaign.

Ms. Lapp explained that Elections Canada will be working to assess to what extent information on when, where and ways to register and vote reached both electors as a whole and, in particular, electors with disabilities. Additional assessments will focus on ensuring electors understood the information provided and understood to turn to Elections Canada, if necessary, to find additional information.

The agency will also seek to assess whether Canadians knew how to contact Elections Canada and whether they took action as a result of getting electoral information. For example, these actions may include updating registration information, calling the agency, or visiting its website.

Ms. Lapp outlined some of the ways the agency intends to carry out its evaluation, such as through the use of surveys, focus groups, interviews, and web and social media metrics.

The Advisory Group was then asked for some feedback on how to improve the agency's evaluation. Discussions included:

Next Steps and Closing Comments

The meeting Chair closed the meeting by commenting that the amount of work done for the 2015 election had been extraordinary. Thanks to the contributions of this Advisory Group, Elections Canada has been able to make changes that have significantly increased accessibility.

The Chair emphasized that this has been an invaluable forum. Thanking the participants for their work and commitment, she expressed her hope that discussions would continue in the months ahead to spread the word for the 2015 general election. She also said that the agency looked forward to ongoing engagement regarding the Advisory Group's recommendations for accessibility priorities beyond 2015.