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People with Disabilities

Electors with disabilities include Canadians aged 18 and older with permanent and temporary disabilities. It also includes electors living in long-term care facilities.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2017, about one in five (6.2 million) Canadians aged 15 and older reported having one or more disability. This includes over 2.6 million with mobility limitations. Among those with a disability, 43% had a severe or very severe disability. The most common disabilities relate to pain, flexibility, mobility and mental health. (Statistics Canada).

Seniors, and especially older seniors, are almost twice as likely to have a disability (47% of seniors aged 75 and older) compared to those of working age (20% of adults aged 25 to 64). (See Seniors are almost twice as likely to have a disability as those of working age) The types of disabilities vary by age group. Younger Canadians are more likely to experience mental illness and learning disabilities. Older Canadians are also more likely to live with more than one type of disability.

Canadians with disabilities tend to show high interest in politics and are well informed about the electoral process. However, they face unique barriers in exercising their right to vote. Our post-election surveys and other research identify a number of barriers to their participation in a federal election.

Getting to the polling place

Electors with disabilities continue to encounter challenges with physical access to the polls. For electors with reduced mobility, transportation to and from polling places can be a serious barrier. Many rely on family members to get to a polling place.

  • While most people over 65 have a driver's licence and access to a vehicle, many do not. They may depend on a spouse, adult child, caregivers or volunteer drivers. Older women, the group with the highest rate of disability, are especially not likely to drive.
  • When asked what, if anything, should be done to help electors with a disability vote in federal elections, 26% of respondents with a disability and 37% of seniors mentioned providing transportation to the polls. (2008 Survey of Electors, SOE)
  • Youth with a disability were less likely to find it very easy to get to the voting location (76%), compared to overall youth (83%) and adults aged 35 and older (90%). (National Youth Survey, NYS)
  • Research on participation among seniors indicates that, for those living in long-term care facilities, the need to be accompanied by a care worker to vote can be a barrier, especially if care workers are pressed for time, or if they have negative attitudes about the voting rights of electors with a cognitive impairment.

At the polling place

Elections Canada works hard to ensure that its polling locations are accessible. In 2015, 96% of polling places met all 15 mandatory criteria for accessibility. (GE 2015) However, more can be done to improve accessibility and awareness of accessibility assistance at the polls.

  • Despite a very high overall satisfaction of electors with a disability (99% had no issue with accessibility at the place where they voted) (SOE 2015), accessibility at the polls can always be improved. This could mean improving signage or providing chairs to accommodate people who are unable to stand for long periods of time. (SOE 2015)
  • When asked what, if anything, should be done to help electors with a disability to vote in federal elections, 27% of respondents with a disability mentioned improving accessibility of the voting location, including making remote voting (through the Internet, phone or mail) more common. (SOE 2008)
  • A majority of electors with disabilities (63%) indicated that their voter information card was useful for checking the level of accessibility at their assigned polling place, while 14% did not find the voter information card to be useful for that purpose (SOE 2015). Evidence from various sources, including consultations, confirms that in 2015, accessibility information on the voter information card was not always accurate, resulting in electors' accessibility requirements not being met.
  • One third of voters with disabilities (32%) who visited a local Elections Canada office or a polling place stated that signs with a wheelchair symbol were not visible. (SOE 2015)

Providing identification

For some Canadians with a disability, providing identification at the polls is not easy.

  • A majority of electors (88%) with a disability found it very easy to meet identification requirements in 2015. (SOE 2015) Among youth with a disability who voted, a higher proportion found proving their identity and address difficult (12%), compared to 5% of overall young voters. (NYS 2015)
  • Among young non-voters with a disability, 24% thought it would have been difficult to prove their identity and address, higher than among young non-voters without a disability (13%). (NYS 2015)
  • Electors with a disability were less likely to use a driver's licence (79%) than electors with no disability (93%) (SOE 2015).

Awareness of accessible voting tools

Electors with disabilities have a low awareness of Elections Canada's accessibility tools and alternative formats.

  • Among electors with disabilities, less than half (43%) were aware of the accessibility services and tools available to them, according to the 2015 SOE. Overall, 31% of young adults with a disability were less likely to be aware of the services and tools offered than those 35 years old and older (46%) (SOE).
  • Only 5% of electors with a disability said they visited the Accessible Voting page on Elections Canada's website during the election, and 2% said they had used the Voter Information Service on the website to check the accessibility of their polling place. (Retrospective Report)

Independently marking, verifying and casting their ballot

Many people with disabilities want to cast their vote without assistance, but are not always aware of the voting tools and methods that can make voting in a federal election easier. Research shows that assistance to electors with disabilities can be improved. Some electors with disabilities found that the tools and aids offered were insufficient to permit independent voting.

  • While most electors with disabilities were able to vote without assistance, 4% required assistance or the use of voting tools to cast their ballot. The top two types that they required were assistance by poll staff and assistance in marking a ballot. (SOE) Those voters were generally satisfied with the level of support they received.
  • Although most voters with disabilities (84%) felt that Elections Canada staff were sensitive to their needs when they voted, 5% of voters with disabilities felt that Elections Canada staff were not sensitive to their needs when voting. (SOE)
  • Some focus group participants in the Electoral Reminder Program evaluation reported receiving poor service from Elections Canada staff when they went to vote. Examples included staff not providing appropriate direction to blind voters and not allowing sufficient privacy when voters were casting a ballot. Participants felt that election workers did not receive adequate training on accessibility services. (Retrospective Report)
  • While the option to vote by mail is the most accessible way for people with severe mobility restrictions, the special ballot process requires more steps than a regular ballot and is not suitable for everyone.

Did you know?

There is a difference between an elector and a voter. An elector is every Canadian citizen 18 years of age and over. A voter is a Canadian citizen who has voted.

Click here Information for People with Disabilities to see the programs and services designed to address the barriers to voting that people with disabilities face.

Go to Inspire Democracy to learn more about how Elections Canada and our network of stakeholder organizations are working together to address some of the barriers to getting involved with elections.

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