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Advisory Group for Disability Issues – Meeting Summary – November 6, 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.

Executive Summary

The third meeting of the Advisory Group for Disability Issues was held on November 6, 2014.

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

The Chief Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand, welcomed participants and remarked on Elections Canada's readiness for the 2015 federal election 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 meeting's main accomplishments include:

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 April 2015 in the National Capital Region.

MEETING OVERVIEW

Welcoming Remarks by the Chief Electoral Officer

The meeting started with welcoming remarks from the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), who restated the agency's commitment to ensuring that every eligible person has the opportunity to exercise his or her right to vote. The CEO explained that the agency is hard at work getting ready for the federal election in 2015.

The CEO acknowledged and thanked the Advisory Group for its feedback and explained how these comments have contributed to the agency's operational plans for the upcoming election. He restated that Elections Canada will be counting on members to help the agency reach the constituencies they represent to ensure that people with disabilities receive information on where, when, and ways to register and vote. He emphasized that he hopes that members will play an active role in ensuring that Elections Canada's products and tools are well advertised within the disability community.

The CEO then explained that it is important for the Advisory Group to begin to plan how to contribute to the aftermath of the election, at this and future meetings. One way is for the Advisory Group to discuss how it can be involved in observing and evaluating the accessibility of the 2015 federal election.

The CEO also outlined that another way is to talk about a vision for the future and to identify fundamental priorities that the Advisory Group would like to see Elections Canada pursue beyond 2015. He is looking forward to the Advisory Group's views on how to make the electoral system as inclusive and accessible as possible and appreciated the opportunity to benefit from the group's expertise.

The CEO closed his introductory remarks by restating his belief that the Advisory Group will play a role in shaping recommendations to Parliament on accessibility issues and that he looks forward to the outcomes of discussions held today and at future meetings.

Agenda Review and Roundtable

The meeting Chair, Susan Torosian, Senior Director, Public Affairs, sought the Advisory Group's comments on the meeting summary from the second meeting. She outlined how the follow-up items assigned to Elections Canada had either been sent to the members prior to the meeting or were incorporated into the agenda of today's meeting. Suggested revisions were discussed and, pending the inclusion of these revisions, the second meeting's summary was considered approved.

The Chair updated the group on two bilateral meetings that took place with Advisory Group members since the second meeting. The first meeting, with COPHAN, was to discuss the Polling Locations Accessibility Checklist and the French terminology in particular. The Chair thanked COPHAN for its feedback, which will enrich future versions of the document. The second meeting, with People First of Canada, addressed next steps on how to bring the issue of photos of candidates on ballots to a future Advisory Committee of Political Parties meeting.

In the member roundtable, participants raised questions and comments on all components of the day's agenda, as well as on the documentation that had been provided in advance. 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.

Communicating Accessibility during the 42nd general election

Building upon the groundwork and discussion at earlier meetings, Kirstan Gagnon, Acting Manager, Stakeholder Engagement Services, updated participants on Elections Canada's plans for communicating accessibility during the next general election.

The first phase of the update discussed the products that Elections Canada has updated for the 2015 federal election. This included a discussion on the re-worked voter information card (VIC), which has been cleaned up and uses a slightly bigger font to improve legibility. Ms. Gagnon also explained that the accessibility information on the VIC has been changed to align with the agency's new commitment to evaluating polling locations against 35 accessibility criteria, 15 of which are mandatory for a location to be considered accessible. It was also explained that there is now a note on the VIC itself explaining that it cannot be used a piece of identification in order to ensure that voters come prepared with the proper ID to prove their identity and address.

Ms. Gagnon explained that the agency will be launching a website dedicated to voters and that one of the links from the home page will use the universal accessibility symbol to provide information on accessibility tools and services available during the election.

Advisory Group members were also updated on the agency's commitment to increasing its digital footprint and reducing the quantity of print products. This increased digital presence includes a social media presence and will include videos, infographics and e-bulletins. The campaign will encourage Canadians to help spread the word about the election through a variety of channels. Advisory Group members were briefed on the important role that Elections Canada is asking them to play in ensuring that all shareable tools available reach the broadest possible audience.

Additional accessibility initiatives were also discussed, including Elections Canada's commitment to significantly increasing the number of products in alternate formats such as Braille, large print, audio and DAISY. Advisory Group members were encouraged to inform their networks and organizations of how to contact Elections Canada to order these products.

Advisory Group members congratulated Elections Canada on its new initiatives, including making it easier for voters to request language or sign language interpretation, and the new online voter registration service. It was stressed that for some people with disabilities, technology can play a key role in increasing accessibility.

Discussion closed with a roundtable that outlined some of the ways that Advisory Group members believe they can contribute to finding all possible channels to distribute electoral information on when, where and ways to register and vote. The Advisory Group resolved to continue these conversations between meetings.

Polling Site Accessibility Review

Mariann Canning, Assistant Director, Accessibility and Outreach, presented an update on Elections Canada's ongoing national survey of polling sites. The presentation provided some background on the task itself, some preliminary results and the next steps in the process.

It was explained that during the 41st general election in 2011, Elections Canada required that one accessibility criteria be met, namely level access, and that this remains the requirement as identified in the Canada Elections Act. During the 41st general election, only 20 polling places did not meet the requirement of level access.

For the 42nd general election, Elections Canada will be taking a broader approach that evaluates all polling locations against 35 accessibility criteria. Ms. Canning provided an overview of these criteria and explained that the proximity of polling locations to electors and the familiarity of a building to the voters are also taken into account.

It was explained that the work is ongoing and that at this time about 60% of returning officers have completed the first task of visiting potential polling locations and recording the results of the polling locations accessibility checklist. Ms. Canning explained that the data entry phase continues and is anticipated to be completed by January 2015. Some preliminary results were then shared with Advisory Group members, and it was explained that returning officers will also be asked to look at possible mitigation measures prior to finalizing the survey.

Ms. Canning explained that the full results of the national survey will be shared with the Advisory Group at the next meeting and that Elections Canada will also be evaluating how best to publish the survey results.

Advisory Group members congratulated Elections Canada on its efforts to ensure polling place accessibility. Some discussion followed outlining potential areas of collaboration between disability organizations and Elections Canada to ensure that effective links exist between returning officers and local disability groups.

Updated Voting Process

Dani Srour, Senior Director, Field Readiness and Events Management, provided Advisory Group members with a short overview of the new voting process for the 2015 general election. The presentation outlined the new voting process and the roles of election workers, in particular the role of the central poll supervisor, who receives the most training and who plays an active role in ensuring that voting day proceeds smoothly for all voters.

Mr. Srour explained that one of the changes for the next general election will be that, for all polling sites, either the site will have an automatic door opener or an election officer will be at the door to provide assistance. This new accessibility measure may be of particular benefit to the disability community. Advisory Group members were encouraged to inform their constituencies about this so that voters can be proactive in letting this election worker know how they can help.

It was explained that a key focus for Elections Canada is the improvement of our cross-disability and accessibility training for election workers. Part of this training focus is the investment in a new Community Relations Officer for Accessibility position that will serve as a resource to returning officers and the community during the election.

Mr. Srour encouraged Advisory Group members to tell their members that it is important to provide feedback about their voting experience. There are a number of ways to do so, including by completing our feedback form either online or at the polling location, or by calling us or speaking to an election worker.

Additionally, Mr. Srour touched on the importance of continuing to establish mobile polls in areas where people with disabilities or seniors live, such as retirement homes or long-term care facilities. He also noted that the new Community Relations Officer for Accessibility position will reach out to the disability community and local care facilities.

Accessibility Service Policy and Service Offering for people with disabilities

Kirstan Gagnon, Acting Manager, Stakeholder Engagement Services, and Bradley Eddison, Outreach Officer, led a discussion with Advisory Group members to gather feedback on Elections Canada's proposed Accessibility Service Policy and Service Offering for people with disabilities.

It was explained that this document was written with a specific focus on the tools and services that people with disabilities can expect when they vote, and it describes the tools and services that will be available to voters for the 2015 general election.

It was reiterated to Advisory Group members that this document is intended as a "living" document that will be updated following the 2015 general election. It will be reviewed in light of accessibility best practices, general election evaluations and as new opportunities for improvements arise.

It was also outlined that the document aims to summarize and centralize the steps that Elections Canada is taking to demonstrate its commitment to building upon the accessible electoral framework that Canadians trust and use.

Ms. Gagnon and Mr. Eddison provided an overview of the document, which had been provided to participants before the meeting. Valuable suggestions, clarifications, and revisions were received, and after discussion with the Advisory Group it was clarified that all comments received will be incorporated into the next version of the document.

Advisory Group members congratulated Elections Canada on compiling this summary of the agency's accessibility tools and service offerings and explained that it will be of great use to people with disabilities. This document will be posted on Elections Canada's website and Advisory Group members will receive an updated version in early 2015.

Visioning Process for the Future

In this session, members shared accessibility-related case studies with the broader group. As had been explained during the CEO's opening remarks, these case studies were viewed as the first step in a visioning process that will identify fundamental priorities that the Advisory Group may like to see Elections Canada pursue beyond 2015.

The Chair reiterated that, as had been explained prior to the meeting, Elections Canada wanted each Advisory Group member to share an example or case study of an organization undertaking progressive or innovative work in the area of accessibility. These examples could take the form of an initiative, a practice, a policy, a communications product, or an outreach or consultative practice.

It was explained that the case studies should be applicable to the scope of our mandate and activities, and/or it should be something that Advisory Group members would like to see adopted or applied to a future federal election.

The Chair emphasized that Elections Canada greatly values the expertise of this Advisory Group and views this as an opportunity to ensure that, going forward, the agency continues to improve our understanding of accessibility and our approach to reducing barriers to voting.

Advisory Group member presentations covered a wide range of initiatives, including but not limited to:

The Chair thanked participants for their contributions and the discussions that followed and re-stated that these case studies will help Elections Canada prepare for a future discussion with the Advisory Group on establishing accessibility priorities beyond 2015.

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 national polling site review process; the status of the agency's implementation of the new communications campaign; and an evaluation of Elections Canada's communications strategies. Additionally, a major focus of the next meeting would be the Advisory Group's input on accessibility priorities.

The Chair also detailed that Elections Canada will continue to work with Advisory Group members on how the agency can best meet the information needs of the communities served by the members in the lead up to the next general election. Advisory Group members can expect to receive an updated version of the Accessibility Policy and Service Offering for people with disabilities.

In consideration of project timelines and operational readiness requirements for the 2015 federal election, it was determined that the next meeting would probably be held in April 2015.