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Advisory Group for Disability Issues – Meeting Summary – February 27, 2014

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.

The Advisory Group provides a way to follow up on consultations held with the Canadian disability community in 2011–12.

Executive Summary

The first meeting of the Advisory Group for Disability Issues was held on February 27, 2014, in Ottawa.

Advisory Group members who attended the first meeting were:

The Chief Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand, welcomed participants and set the context for the creation of the Advisory Group and its mandate. Michel Roussel, Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, Electoral Events, then provided an overview of Elections Canada's Accessibility Road Map to 2015. Susan Torosian, Senior Director, Public Affairs, chaired the meeting. The various sessions were designed to present information to and seek feedback from the Advisory Group on the agency's initiatives for the 2015 general election, including various projects and tools to enhance voting accessibility.

The main accomplishments of the first meeting of the Advisory Group included:

Presentations, discussions and exchanges between participants focused mainly on improvements to the voting experience; the implementation of a cross-disability training approach; possible pilots for a potential new voting model and new accessibility tools for polling places; and the best ways to reach out to the disability community and communicate information on when, where and ways to register and vote.


Official Welcome by the Chief Electoral Officer

The meeting started with welcoming remarks from the Chief Electoral Officer, who reiterated his commitment to increasing voting accessibility for all electors, including electors with disabilities. Proud of the progress and improvements resulting from research and past consultation with organization leaders, he also reiterated his commitment to listening to the community as Elections Canada focuses on preparing for the next general election in 2015. While the new proposed legislation (Bill C-23) was still being reviewed and analyzed, one key element would be to strengthen the agency's relationship and continued collaboration with the disability community.

Mr. Mayrand stated that voting remains an individual experience. Elections Canada needs to ensure that rules are flexible enough to take into account the individual circumstances of all Canadians. For electors who have no other alternative, the agency needs to establish a balance between accessibility and integrity.

Accessibility Road Map

Participants gain an understanding of Elections Canada's vision, business operations and legislative realities

Mr. Roussel provided participants with an overview of Elections Canada's vision, business operations and legislative realities in terms of accessibility. Presenting Elections Canada's Accessibility Road Map to 2015, he explained the agency's key responsibilities in terms of accessibility and the services it is currently providing to the disability community. He outlined an election period, how elections and election day work from an operational perspective, and how accessibility has been integrated into operations in previous years. He also reflected on how the concept of accessibility has evolved from a strictly level-access perspective to an attitude and barrier-free perspective.

Voting Experience Improvements

Mariann Canning, Assistant Director, Accessibility and Outreach, presented the priorities for program enhancements for the next general election and the ways in which barriers will be addressed, such as polling place accessibility, familiarity and proximity, and the independent voting experience. The document she presented will be shared with participants who request it. Some options to enhance the voting experience include magnifiers and Braille lists of candidates. It was also reiterated that a person can use the voting template or large-print list of candidates, or bring someone else with them to vote.

An Elections Canada panel answered the questions generated by the two presentations, including questions on the specific criteria for evaluating polling places and the type of training that would be provided to the workforce so that they are able to understand and provide the services available to the disability community. Several questions were raised on technical and other aspects of a possible ASL/LSQ interpreter for the next general election. Participants asked about options for blind people who cannot read Braille. Candidate photos on ballots or posters at polls were also suggested as an accommodation for people with low literacy or an intellectual disability. The panel also touched on the creation of a new accessibility officer position and the hiring process. Participants asked for the job description to be shared with them.

Advisory Group members made the following suggestions and recommendations.

Subject Suggestion or Recommendation
Polling place selection
  • Conduct a review of polling places against accessibility criteria.
  • Consider elements such as proximity to a bus station.
  • Take into account the reality of urban centres versus rural centres (transportation system non-existent in rural areas); consider new technology to overcome these challenges.
FaceTime pilot / Deaf community
  • Explore the idea of using ASL/LSQ in real-time through FaceTime, taking into account bandwidth, connectivity, Wi-Fi and an adequate platform.
  • Develop guidelines for appropriate use of FaceTime – where the interpreters would be, where they would come from, etc.
  • Share this information with returning officers.
  • Do not forget about the deaf-blind community and the specific interpretive technology they might need.
  • Explore the possibility of a partnership with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, given their new Video Relay Service.
Ballot accessibility
  • While candidate pictures on ballots would require a legislative change, explore pictures, logos and candidate names on a poster at polling places. This would be a means of accommodating people with intellectual disabilities or low literacy.
  • Look at precedents and practices from other countries to handle literacy issues.
  • Use technology as an option for offering better access to voting independently and in secrecy. Be creative – use iPhones and iPads or other devices. (There was a lot of interest and strong recommendations from participants on this point.)
  • Consider technology that can be used on a variety of devices. It would work better if people could use their own devices or adapted technology.
  • Post the list of candidates on the website before voting days – it would be easier to review the candidates before going to vote.
Voter experience improvements
  • Learn from the experiences of the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg (wayfinding, accessible kiosks, ASL/LSQ, captioning, etc.), as they have considerable expertise to offer.

Follow-up action items

Potential New Voting Model Pilot Project

Note: It was later determined that this project would not be pursued for the 2015 general election. 

Dawn Borutskie, Manager, Re-engineering of Voting Model Project, presented a potential new voting model pilot, explaining the process step by step. This model would improve services to electors, be adaptable to changing demographics, and be more manageable from a training perspective. Participants were asked if they could foresee any barriers with this new model, if they had any suggestions on how changes would need to be communicated to the community, and how to go about organizing user testing.

After the presentation, some of the questions revolved around the role of the accessibility officer and the fact that ID verification might become a challenge from a crowd management perspective. Long wait times can be an issue for people with a disability, or others, who can tire or become overwhelmed by the experience.

A suggestion was made that, at the first stage of the proposed voting model, the election officer proactively offer assistance and mention the various types of services available to voters. It was noted that it is important for voters to know their options at every stage of the voting process.

Training Approach

Nadine Charron, Acting Assistant Director, Training, presented new improvements to the training approach. A new training program was created, taking into consideration the time constraints associated with training election officers and incorporating in-class and online training principles. The new approach adopts cross-disability training for election workers.

Ms. Charron showed a video that will be part of the new online training program to demonstrate the material. These videos will provide closed captioning.

Election officer training is three hours in length, but the new online training will make it more accessible for everyone.

Following the presentation, members made a number of comments and suggestions. They proposed resources for the references section and suggested the agency make a video portraying people with disabilities talking about their experience. Members indicated that it would be important for the training to cover accessibility awareness, such as how to approach people with disabilities.

The Advisory Group suggested that it organize user testing for the online training modules and test the training from every point of view. There was also a suggestion for a step-by-step video on various processes, with sign language interpreters on screen.

Advisory Group members made the following suggestions and recommendations.

Subject Suggestion or Recommendation
  • Propose resources that would be included in the online training module, under the references section
  • Create a video with people with disabilities talking about their experience
  • Create a step-by-step video with sign language interpreters in a bubble
  • Include information on accessibility awareness and how to approach people with disabilities

Follow-up action items

Communications and Outreach Campaign

Kirstan Gagnon, Acting Manager, Stakeholder Engagement Services, presented on Elections Canada's communications campaign to make voters aware of when and where to register and vote and how to prove their identity. One of the campaign's objectives is to communicate information more universally, helping reduce the barriers for people with disabilities. After consultations and research on best practices, the communications products are being revamped. The new materials will include increased use of plain language, less text, and will be available in multiple formats and languages. A community relations officer toolkit is also being created, adding plain language fact sheets and materials to reach out to target groups. These communications products will be tested through focus groups in 2014. There is also an interest in working with organizations to help get information out about the election.

After the presentation, it was mentioned that although many organizations have been defunded, which might make it difficult to help with less staff, several organizations are open to assisting with election promotional efforts. Many participants said they would be happy to take this proposal back to their organizations to test the usability of the communications products and to spread this information through their networks. A lot of people who are deaf, blind or partially sighted would like to know where to vote and what ID to bring.

Advisory Group members made the following suggestions and recommendations.

Subject Suggestion or Recommendation
Communications products
  • Do not abridge materials when transferring them into another format. The same information should be available for everyone.
  • Take into account declining use of TTY and the possibility of using tweets and direct messaging instead.
Becoming a candidate
  • Increase accessibility, not only in voting, but also in how to become a candidate – work to remove barriers for people with disabilities.
  • While political parties usually handle their own processes, create uniformity in terms of accessibility (in some cases, websites of political parties or candidates can present challenges from an accessibility standpoint).
  • In Elections Canada's communications campaign, raise more awareness of how to become a candidate.

Next Steps and Closing Comments

It was determined that the next meeting would probably be held in June. Topics to be brought forward would include additional information on a potential new voting model and developments in the project; the accessibility of polling places and tools available there; the training approach; and further consultation on the online training modules.

Elections Canada stated that, between meetings, it could contact participants for clarification and feedback. The agency is committed to looking into the suggestion that photos and logos be placed on ballots or on a poster at each polling site. Finally, the agency will provide information on the new legislation and any changes to its plans for 2015.

Elections Canada again asked participants not to share the documentation at this point, as many of the plans are still drafts. Eventually, the agency will create a section on its website for the Advisory Group.