Accessibility Policy and Service Offering For people with disabilities
February 20, 2015
Office of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada
Table of Contents
- Section 1 – Purpose
- Section 2 – Our Commitment
- Section 3 – Accessibility Initiatives and Consultation Work
- Section 4 – The Voting Experience – Tools and Services at Polling Places
- Section 5 – Employment and Training
- Section 6 – Registering to Vote
- Section 7 – Ways to Vote
- Section 8 – Election Materials and Accessible Formats
- Section 9 – Hours of Operation and Contact Information
- Section 10 – Accessibility Feedback, Complaints and Inquiries
- Section 11 – Policy Review and Approval
Section 1. Purpose
Elections Canada is an independent, non-partisan agency that reports directly to the Parliament of Canada. Our most important responsibilities include conducting federal elections, by-elections and referendums.
To this end, we work to ensure that all eligible Canadians can exercise their democratic rights to vote and to be a candidate in federal elections.
Canadians have diverse needs and accessibility can have a different meaning for everyone. Our long-term vision is for accessibility to be an ongoing process to provide inclusive, universal and flexible services that benefit everyone. Over the years, we have progressively introduced different voting options and services to accommodate the needs of all Canadians. Much of our work in recent years has focused on reducing barriers for people with disabilities.
Therefore, this document is written with a specific focus on the tools and services that people with disabilities can expect when they vote. It describes the tools and services that will be available to voters for the 2015 general election, also referred to as the 42nd general election.
This Accessibility Policy and Service Offering 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.
Section 2. Our Commitment
Elections Canada is committed to building upon the accessible electoral framework that Canadians trust and use.
We are committed to being responsive to the needs of Canadians of all abilities and to working to accommodate voters and employees with disabilities. We make every effort to make the voting experience as accessible as possible and to engage people with disabilities about the services that affect them.
Elections Canada is committed to adopting the following principles in all of our projects and services:
- Design for choice and flexibility – by thinking inclusively.
- Educate and inform Canadians using plain language.
- Provide Canadians with modern and convenient ways to access information, register and vote.
- Improve the voting experience and make it easier to participate by removing barriers.
- Support the independence, and respect the dignity, of people with disabilities.
Section 3. Accessibility Initiatives and Consultation Work
General Description of Major Initiatives
Elections Canada has worked to remove the obstacles voters may encounter by making continual improvements to the electoral process, including communication and administrative processes. Following each election, the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada reports to Parliament and makes recommendations on how to further improve the electoral system. These are discussed with parliamentary committees.
Since the last general election in 2011, Elections Canada has been implementing a series of measures to continue improving the accessibility of the electoral process. These include:
- Enhanced and expanded cross-disability training for both election workers and Elections Canada staff.
- Increased investment in community outreach for people with disabilities.
- Improved signage and voting screens at polling places.
- New voting tools such as magnifiers and Braille lists of candidates.
- A polling place accessibility review process that follows a new checklist of 35 accessibility criteria.
- Improvements to website accessibility.
- A revamped communications campaign that presents information in plain language and in accessible formats.
- Greater consultation and outreach programs to share information. We work with national and provincial organizations and, through their networks, gain an additional way to reach people with disabilities.
These measures are explained in more detail in the sections that follow.
Informed by Consultation and Research
Elections Canada's ongoing accessibility initiatives build upon research and consultation undertaken since the last general election in 2011.
In 2011–2012, Elections Canada met with 19 national and provincial disability organizations across Canada. The goal of this exercise was to build better relationships with the disability community and gain a better understanding of its needs and the barriers that people face. Elections Canada continues to draw on this network of organizations for consultation purposes and for help in reaching people with disabilities and informing them about federal elections.
Additionally, Elections Canada has conducted research to inform the projects it undertakes. The most recent study was undertaken in 2012 by Dr. Michael Prince of the University of Victoria. Elections Canada has implemented several of his recommendations.
In 2014, Elections Canada launched its first ever Advisory Group for Disability Issues. The purpose of the group is to provide accessibility advice to Elections Canada on key projects related to the next general election.
Section 4. The Voting Experience – Tools and Services at Polling Places
This section will describe some of the accessibility tools and services that Elections Canada will have in place for the 2015 general election.
Voting takes place where public life happens. Building codes and accessibility standards are different across the country. Therefore, we have – together with experts and the disability community – developed accessibility criteria to guide us in evaluating some 30,000 polling places across the country. When choosing these locations, proximity to where people live and the familiarity of locations to the community are taken into account. Our goal is also for these locations to meet all of our mandatory accessibility criteria; however, this is not always possible.
To ensure that voters are aware of the accessibility of their polling site, we communicate this in advance so voters can be aware of what their polling places offer and make an informed choice as to whether a particular site will meet their needs. If not, we let voters know how they can make alternate arrangements.
Elections Canada tasks returning officers with securing polling places that provide level access in addition to other accessibility features. In so doing, returning officers use our new Accessibility Checklist to evaluate the accessibility of potential sites prior to the election.
This checklist contains 35 criteria, 15 of which are mandatory. This means a site must meet these 15 criteria, at a minimum, to be considered accessible. If a site meets fewer criteria but still offers level/wheelchair access, this is how we advertise it online and on the voter information card.
In the rare event that a site has no level/wheelchair access, the returning officer must provide a rationale to use this site and the Chief Electoral Officer must approve this request.
After an election is called, we send out a voter information card to all registered voters. The card now indicates the accessibility of your polling places with the following information, in one of three ways:
- The site meets 15 accessibility criteria. The accessibility symbol is displayed, along with where to find more information.
- The site is wheelchair accessible. The accessibility symbol is displayed, along with the phone number that you can call to ensure that the site meets your needs.
- The site has no wheelchair access. The accessibility symbol is not displayed, but voters are encouraged to call their returning office to explore their options, such as voting at another location.
You can also find the information that is printed on your voter information card in our Voter Information Service by entering your postal code or by calling us. This includes information on when, where and ways to vote and on the list of accessibility criteria that your polling place meets.
When you go to vote, either your site will have an automatic door opener or an election officer will be at the door to provide assistance. Please let this person know how they can help.
Election workers also check the accessibility of polling places throughout the day, both on advance polling days and on election day.
Tools and Services
We provide a variety of tools and services to meet the diverse needs of Canadians. They are available at advance polling places, at local Elections Canada offices and at polling places on election day.
Here are the tools and services we offer:
- Magnifiers with light (4x)
- A tactile and Braille voting template that fits on top of a ballot
- Large-print lists of candidates
- Braille lists of candidates (available on election day only)
- Language or sign language interpretation (must be requested ahead of time)
- Assistance in marking a ballot
- Improved voting screens that let in more light
If you would like to become more familiar with the voting process, we have produced a video that provides information on what to expect when you go to vote.
Language or Sign language interpretation
Elections Canada recognizes that some voters may require language interpretation to help them vote.
If you require language or sign-language interpretation on election day, you may make a request to Elections Canada to provide the service.
Once an election has been called, you can make a request for language or sign language interpretation online, by TTY at 1-800-361-8935 or by phone at 1-800-463-6868.
We must receive your request before 6:00 p.m. on the fourth day before election day. We will make every effort to accommodate requests and locate interpreters in your community.
Elections Canada supports the use of service animals to assist voters with disabilities when they go vote at polling places.
In some cases, local laws have specific requirements regulating the presence of service animals in public spaces. If you believe your service animal is not permitted in your polling place, call us at 1-800-463-6868 and we'll put you in touch with your returning office to make alternate arrangements.
Election workers are fully aware that service animals are working animals and should not be distracted, spoken to or offered food.
Assistance from an Election Worker or Someone Else
Voters with disabilities may require the assistance of a support person to help them vote. Support people provide assistance to a person with a disability and may be a family member, friend, personal support worker, intervener or sign-language interpreter.
Election workers receive cross-disability awareness and sensitivity training to communicate directly with the voter and not his or her support person. The support person will be required to take an oath to respect the secrecy of the voter's choice. The oath is administered by the deputy returning officer. If you require assistance, please let the election worker know how he or she can help.
If you do not have a support person and you request help, a deputy returning officer can help you mark your ballot. This will always be done in full view of a poll clerk. In these situations, no one else may be present.
Example of an assisted voting process
- Let the election worker know that you would like assistance to vote and express your preferences. We recognize that everyone has different needs and the election worker will assist you in the best way possible.
- The deputy returning officer or other election worker will ask the voter for which candidate he or she wishes to vote and marks the ballot on his or her behalf.
- An election worker then asks the voter whether he or she wants to put the ballot in the ballot box or prefers the deputy returning officer to do it on his or her behalf.
Voters with disabilities, in particular people with a visual impairment, may use a personal mobile device, such as a smart phone, to read their ballot behind the voting screen.
All reasonable steps should be taken to preserve the secrecy of the vote. It is not permitted to transmit an image of a marked ballot to a third party. Also, voters who use mobile devices should bring earphones and any recording made should not be retained.
The use of a mobile device and any applications required for this purpose are the voter's responsibility. Elections Canada does not guarantee the reliability of technology in this area.
Section 5. Employment and Training
Elections Canada is committed to supporting the employment of people with disabilities and recognizes the benefits of increasing the inclusion of people with disabilities in the workforce. Our hiring practices aim to be inclusive and representative, and reflective of Canadian diversity.
We encourage you to learn more about Elections Canada employment opportunities.
Community Relations Officers for Accessibility
The Community Relations Officer program was created to reduce barriers to voting faced by certain groups of voters. Officers provide information on when, where and ways to register and vote as well as the tools and services available to voters.
Elections Canada has added community relations officers for accessibility across Canada to engage voters with disabilities and local organizations, and to serve as a resource to the returning officer.
Additionally, information on accessibility has been included in a new communications booklet and toolkit provided to all community relations officers.
Training for Election Workers
For a general election, over 250,000 election workers are hired across 338 electoral districts. Most of this staffing takes place in the 30 days leading up to election day.
Elections Canada provides training for all returning officers and election workers across the country. This includes general orientation and cross-disability training on topics such as accessibility and sensitivity toward people with diverse abilities.
The training program takes into consideration the time constraints associated with training electoral officers and incorporates in-class and online training. Our online training modules, including videos, are fully accessible and have been tested by people with disabilities.
Elections Canada's accessibility training:
- Makes election workers aware of accessibility tools at the polling place.
- Provides tips on how to maintain these accessibility features.
- Makes election workers aware of various tools available to voters, and
- Educates them on how to approach a voter who may require assistance.
We encourage voters to be proactive in informing election workers of their needs.
Section 6. Registering to Vote
To vote, you must be registered.
Most eligible voters are already registered. Elections Canada keeps voter registration information in the National Register of Electors – the database of Canadians who are qualified to vote in federal elections. We update this database automatically, using many sources.
To make sure your voter registration is up-to-date, you can:
- Use our online voter registration service. It will let you check if you are registered, update your address, or register for the first time.
- If you are updating your address or registering online, you may be asked for the number on your driver's license or provincial or territorial card.
- Call us at 1-800-463-6868 and we can tell you if you're registered at your current address. If you need to register or update your information, we will mail, fax or e-mail you a registration form that you can return to us, with copies of your ID.
During an election, people can also register or update their registration at their polling place or their local Elections Canada office.
Section 7. Ways to Vote
Elections Canada provides a number of ways to vote. No matter how you choose to vote:
- You must be registered to vote (see Section 6); if you are not, you can register now.
- You must prove your identity and address.
Vote at Your Advance Poll
Voting at your advance poll may provide a more comfortable voting environment if you would like to avoid lines or crowds.
Advance polls will be held on the 10th, 9th, 8th and 7th days before election day (a Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday). They will be open from 12:00 noon to 8:00 p.m. local time.
After an election is called, the dates, hours and address of your advance polling place are available on our Voter Information Service, on your voter information card or by calling Elections Canada.
All of the tools and services we offer will be available on advance voting days, with the exception of the Braille list of candidates.
Vote on Election Day
You can vote on election day. After an election is called, the hours and address of your polling place are available on our Voter Information Service, on your voter information card or by calling Elections Canada.
Vote at Your Local Elections Canada Office
You can vote in person at your local Elections Canada office for most of the election period. After an election is called, Elections Canada sets up local offices in every riding in Canada. Contact us, and we will put you in touch with your local office.
As with other polling places, Elections Canada tasks returning officers with securing local offices that provide level access in addition to other accessibility features.
Just like at your advance poll, all of the tools and services we offer to meet the diverse needs of voters will be available at your local Elections Canada office, with the exception of the Braille list of candidates. Additionally, voting at your local Elections Canada office may offer a more comfortable voting environment if you would like to avoid lines or crowds.
Vote by Mail
You can request to vote by mail up until 6:00 p.m. on the 6th day before election day. This is called special ballot voting.
In order to do so:
- Complete and print a request form or pick one up at any local Elections Canada office or any Canadian embassy, consulate or high commission abroad.
- Send us your form with a copy of your ID, and we will mail you a voting kit.
- Return your marked ballot to Elections Canada before the deadline on election day.
Once you request a voting kit, you cannot vote by any other method.
Other Ways to Vote
Elections Canada offers mobile polling stations in some long-term care residences and hospital wards. If required, we transport the ballot box from room to room to facilitate voting.
Elections Canada also offers voting at home in the presence of an election officer and a witness for voters who cannot go to the local Elections Canada office or mark their ballot due to a disability. In order to do so, you must request to vote by special ballot and there are specific circumstances a voter must meet. Please contact us up until 6:00 p.m. on the 6th day before election day to register if you or a family member requires this service.
Section 8. Election Materials and Accessible Formats
Elections Canada has developed a wide range of services and information products in different formats that explain when, where and the ways to register and vote.
We have also revamped our communications and advertising campaign. Publications are written using plain-language principles and explain what to expect when Canadians go to vote so that they become familiar with the process beforehand.
We offer information online and in print and in alternate formats such as large print, Braille, audio and ASL/LSQ video. We also offer information in 31 heritage languages and 12 aboriginal languages, and a telephone interpretation service in over 110 languages.
If you would like to order a publication in an alternate format, please contact us.
The Elections Canada website is compliant with the federal standard on web accessibility, which follows World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) accessibility guidelines (version 2, level AA). These criteria are part of the W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. For more information on W3C and its accessibility guidelines, please visit W3C's website.
We are always working to improve our website's accessibility. We will continue to ensure the accessibility of applications and any new data posted online.
Section 9. Hours of Operation and Contact Information
To make it convenient and easy to vote, here are our hours of operation during an election:
- Local Elections Canada offices:
- Open from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., Monday to Friday
- Open from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Saturdays
- Open from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Sundays
- Hours of operation may be extended beyond these hours
- Polling places:
- Open from noon to 8:00 p.m. on advance polling days
- Open for 12 hours on election day (times vary by time zone)
Year-round, you can contact us in the following ways:
- By telephone – Monday to Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (Eastern Time)
- 1-800-463-6868 (toll-free in Canada and the United States)
- 001-800-514-6868 (toll-free in Mexico)
- 613-993-2975 (from anywhere in the world)
- By TTY – Monday to Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (Eastern Time)
- 1-800-361-8935 (toll-free in Canada and the United States)
- By fax
- 1-888-524-1444 (toll-free in Canada and the United States)
- By e-mail
Section 10. Accessibility Feedback, Complaints and Inquiries
Accessibility Feedback Process
We have an accessibility feedback process. This helps us improve on what we do to better serve you.
If you have any feedback about accessibility as a result of your voting experience, let us know.
Here are the ways you can give us feedback:
- Download the Polling Site Accessibility Feedback Form.
- Complete the form at your polling place.
- Speak with an election worker when you go to vote.
- Call 1-800-463-6868.
- Contact us by TTY 1-800-361-8935.
Improving the accessibility of the electoral process will require an ongoing effort. Moving forward, Elections Canada intends to continue engaging the disability community to better understand barriers and to work together to identify solutions.
Other Complaints and Inquiries
When we receive an inquiry, we make every effort to ensure that you receive a response within 15 working days.
Section 11. Policy Review and Approval
This policy was developed in February 2015 in consultation with Elections Canada's Advisory Group for Disability Issues.
The policy will be reviewed and revised following the 2015 general election. This review will take into account general election evaluations, accessibility best practices, and new opportunities for improvement that arise.
If you have questions or feedback for us on this policy, please contact us, or call us at 1-800-463-6868.