Advisory Group for Disability Issues – Meeting Summary – June 4, 2014
About the Advisory Group for Disability Issues
The Advisory Group for Disability Issues ("Advisory Group") is mandated to:
- Provide subject matter expertise on accessibility to Elections Canada
- Consult with Elections Canada when the Agency designs or implements projects and service improvements related to the 2015 general election
- Validate Elections Canada's accessibility initiatives
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 second meeting of the Advisory Group for Disability Issues was held on June 4, 2014, at Elections Canada's offices in Gatineau.
All Advisory Group members attended the second meeting. They are:
- Laurie Beachell
- Diane Bergeron
- Gary Birch
- Kory Earle
- Shelley Fletcher (advisor)
- Frank Folino
- Donna Jodhan
- Richard Lavigne
- Laurence Parent
The Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand welcomed participants and delivered remarks on new electoral legislation and the value the Advisory Group continues to provide to Elections Canada in the lead up to the next general election. Susan Torosian, Senior Director, Public Affairs, chaired the meeting and its various sessions, provided updates on follow-up items, and facilitated roundtable discussions throughout the course of the day.
The main accomplishments of the second meeting of the Advisory Group include:
- Providing participants with an update on Bill C-23;
- Discussing next steps regarding a suggestion to place photos of candidates on ballots or posters at the polls;
- Receiving feedback from the Group on Elections Canada's field staff training modules and accessibility program enhancements; and
- Discussing next steps in our forward calendar for additional feedback or consultation required in between meetings.
The Advisory Group will continue to meet periodically in the lead up to and following the next general election. Its next meeting is scheduled for late October or early November 2014, in the National Capital Region.
Welcoming Remarks by the Chief Electoral Officer
The meeting started with welcoming remarks from the Chief Electoral Officer, who restated the agency's commitment to ensuring that every eligible person has the opportunity to exercise his or her right to vote. He explained that the agency continues to work on understanding the potential impacts of Bill C-23.
Mr. Mayrand acknowledged and thanked Advisory Group members who appeared before the House of Commons and Senate committees to give testimony about the bill. He recognized that it is important for parliamentarians to hear the views of concerned citizens on the subject of accessibility and the electoral system.
The Chief Electoral Officer explained that Elections Canada is currently conducting four by-elections where a Braille list of candidates will be piloted at polling locations. The agency plans to expand this initiative to all 338 ridings in the next general election.
The Chief Electoral Officer closed his introductory remarks by restating his belief that the Advisory Group will play a role in shaping recommendations to Parliament on accessibility issues. He noted that he looked forward to the outcomes of discussions held in this and future meetings.
Agenda Review and Roundtable
The Chair sought the Advisory Group's comments or questions on the proposed Terms of Reference that were provided to members between the first and second meetings. With no suggested revisions, the Terms of Reference were adopted.
The Chair also asked for comments on the meeting summary from the first meeting and outlined how the follow-up items assigned to Elections Canada had either been sent to Advisory Group members prior to the meeting or were incorporated into the agenda of the day’s meeting. With no suggested revisions, the first meeting summary was considered approved.
Lastly, the Chair outlined that one item from the first meeting, the New Voting Model Pilot Project, had been put on hold. Elections Canada intends to continue with the initiative after the next general election.
In the member roundtable, participants raised questions and comments on all components of the day’s agenda, as well as on the pre-read documentation that had been provided. These questions and comments have been incorporated into the relevant sections that follow. Members looked forward to the opportunity to discuss these subjects with Elections Canada experts over the course of the meeting.
Briefing on Bill C-23
Stéphane Perrault, Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, Regulatory Affairs, provided participants with an overview of Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts. He explained that the bill represents the most significant reform for the agency since 2000 and that it will affect many aspects of Elections Canada's operations.
The presentation focused on the impact the bill will have on the way Elections Canada communicates with voters and in particular with people with disabilities. Firstly, Mr. Perrault highlighted that Elections Canada is now specifically encouraged to communicate measures that aim to improve the accessibility of the electoral system. He also explained that the agency's advertising and educational programs will need to adhere to the requirements outlined in the bill.
Secondly, Mr. Perrault outlined how Bill C-23 will change Elections Canada's ability to conduct studies of alternative voting processes. On the one hand, Bill C-23 expands the agency's ability to conduct studies of alternative voting processes without electronic elements. On the other hand, studies of alternative electronic voting processes will now require the approval of both Houses of Parliament, whereas prior to Bill C-23 only the approval of the relevant committees of both Houses was required.
Additionally, Mr. Perrault outlined how the bill will change both voter identification rules – including vouching – and the relationship between the Chief Electoral Officer and the Commissioner of Canada Elections.
Advisory Group members raised concerns regarding the possibility that it will be more difficult for Elections Canada to test electronic voting under the new bill. Members reinforced that, for some people with disabilities, technology can play a key role in increasing accessibility.
The discussion also focused on the new voter identification requirements, Elections Canada's experience with vouching in past elections, changes to candidate funding regulations and the election complaint process, and the agency's mandate in the areas of promotion and outreach going forward.
Field Staff Training Tool / Training Module Testing and Run-through
Building upon the groundwork and discussion from the first meeting, Nadine Charron, Acting Assistant Director, Training, led a demonstration and walk-through of some of Elections Canada’s field staff training modules that will be available online.
The first objective of the session was to have members test the training modules from an accessibility perspective. Computer terminals were set up for the purpose. Elections Canada reiterated that one of the intents of creating online training modules is to increase the accessibility of the training program.
The second objective was to seek feedback on the content of the accessibility module. This new module reinforces and emphasizes respect for all persons. Elections Canada explained that there are 26 types of voters who are modeled in the training, including a person who is blind.
The session generated a number of suggestions and recommendations, as detailed below.
|Subject||Suggestion or Recommendation|
|Accessibility User Testing||
Photos of Candidates
Michel Roussel, Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, Electoral Events, updated participants on Elections Canada's position regarding photos of candidates on the ballot and on posters at polling sites. This was raised at the first Advisory Group meeting, and the agency committed to returning to the Advisory Group with some possible next steps.
Mr. Roussel emphasized that Elections Canada believes, in principle, that this is an issue deserving both further study and consideration. Mr. Roussel also recognized the efforts of Advisory Group members to raise this issue with parliamentarians.
It was explained, however, that Bill C-23 was not amended to address this issue. Without a clear mandate from Parliament, the agency is not in a position to create such posters or put photos on ballots for the next election.
Elections Canada proposed working with the Advisory Group, going forward, to develop a strategy to engage parliamentarians on this issue. This could potentially involve broaching the topic in recommendations to Parliament following the next general election, piloting posters at a future by‑election, or both. Additionally, Elections Canada would like to explore the possibility of having Advisory Group members speak on this subject to the Advisory Committee of Political Parties (ACPP) that represents the 17 federally registered political parties.
Advisory Group members explained that they were glad to hear that Elections Canada is willing to continue working with organizations to move this issue forward.
Follow-up action items
- Determine if Elections Canada can share the names of ACPP members with the Advisory Group
- Determine how Advisory Group members could be involved in making a presentation on the issue of photos on ballots or posters at the fall 2014 ACPP annual general meeting
Improvements to the Voting Experience and Accessibility Tools
Mariann Canning, Assistant Director, Accessibility and Outreach, presented an update on program enhancements for the next general election. She explained that she looked forward to receiving Advisory Group comments and suggestions regarding both the job profile for the Community Relations Officer – Accessibility and the polling site accessibility checklist that were circulated in advance of the meeting.
It was reiterated that, in light of the suspension of the New Voting Model Pilot Project, Elections Canada would need to revisit its approach to piloting a project for voters who are deaf that would aim to provide real-time ASL/LSQ interpretation, such as through FaceTime. Also, Ms. Canning outlined that Elections Canada will be using the accessibility checklist as part of the polling site reviews beginning within the next month. She reiterated that the agency will be piloting a Braille list of candidates at the four by-elections of June 30, and finally, explained that the agency has set up a “show and tell” of the new voting screen for Advisory Group members to test and provide comments on.
Several questions were raised about employment opportunities during an election for people with disabilities. Advisory Group members explained that the memberships they represent would be greatly interested in such opportunities. It was explained that Elections Canada believes there will be such opportunities for employment, especially in the returning offices. In particular, there is hope that the newly created Community Relations Officer – Accessibility position will be filled by people with disabilities. It was explained, however, that other positions such as Deputy Returning Officer have strict operational requirements that may make it difficult to provide opportunities to, as one example, people who are blind. These requirements include the duty to manage voters lists and registration forms.
Questions were also raised about how voters will be able to find out how accessible a polling site is. It was explained that Elections Canada's website will provide this information by detailing what criteria from the accessibility checklist are not met by a particular site. The voter information card is also being re-worked to include accessibility information. Advisory Group members discussed the different challenges facing rural and remote areas when it comes to accessibility. It was explained that Elections Canada recognizes these differences and ensures that local returning officers play a key role in developing the accessibility plan for their riding.
Advisory Group members made suggestions and recommendations following the session, as detailed below.
|Subject||Suggestion or Recommendation|
|Sharing of Accessibility Reports||
Follow-up action items:
- Follow up with the Advisory Group on the potential for piloting text-to-voice technology
- As requested by one participant, schedule an additional one-on-one meeting over the summer to discuss some suggestions relevant to the accessibility checklist
Next Steps and Closing Comments
In the day’s last session, the Chair outlined some of Elections Canada’s expectations for the next meeting. In consultation with Advisory Group members, it was decided that topics to be brought forward would include an update on the polling site review process; the status of Elections Canada’s implementation of the new legislation and how that would translate in terms of new processes at the polls; a follow-up from the ACPP meeting on the issue of posters of candidates at polling sites and photos on the ballot; and an update on Elections Canada’s web content on accessibility, including a web presence for the Advisory Group.
The Chair also detailed that Elections Canada is planning to survey Advisory Group members on how the agency can best meet the information needs of the communities they serve in the lead-up to the next general election. Additionally, she said Elections Canada may seek input between meetings on the value of creating an accessibility and service offering document.
In consideration of project timelines and the timing of the ACPP meeting, it was determined that the next meeting would probably be held in late October or early November.