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Advisory Group for Disability Issues – Meeting Summary – February 16–17, 2016

About the Advisory Group for Disability Issues

The Advisory Group for Disability Issues ("Advisory Group") is mandated to:

  • Provide Elections Canada with subject matter expertise on accessibility
  • 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.

Executive Summary

The meeting of the Advisory Group was held on April 23 and 24, 2015.

The following Advisory Group members attended the fifth meeting:

Susan Torosian, Senior Director, Policy and Public Affairs, chaired the meeting and its various sessions and provided updates on follow-up items. Parts of the meetings, namely the roundtable discussions, were moderated by a third party facilitator.

The meeting's main accomplishments included:

  • Discussing Advisory Group members' voting experiences during the 2015 federal election;
  • Assessing whether Advisory Group members' views on accessibility priorities, identified during the April 2015 meeting, have changed;
  • Discussing the outreach programs undertaken for people with disabilities during the 2015 federal election;
  • Discussing the Advisory Group's role in presenting information on accessibility and disability issues to the Advisory Committee of Political Parties, as well as a potential opportunity to present on accessibility priorities to the Minister of Democratic Institutions;
  • Evaluating the current Advisory Group with an eye towards continuing the Group's role in advising Elections Canada.

The Advisory Group plans to meet next in May or June 2016 in the National Capital Region.

Meeting Overview

Day 1 Opening Remarks by the Chief Electoral Officer

The Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) opened the meeting and thanked members for their ongoing commitment to the Advisory Group. The CEO recognized each of the Advisory Group members for their contributions to improving accessibility and advising on initiatives for the 2015 general election; he presented each with a certificate of recognition.

The CEO made some general remarks on the 2015 federal election, highlighting that it was a very successful election and in many ways a historic one. In addition to being the first fixed date election and the longest election period in over 100 years, some three million more Canadians voted than in the 2011 election, resulting in the highest voter turnout in more than 20 years. The election also saw the biggest increase in voter turnout in one election in modern history.

He noted that across all communications channels, Canadians increased their engagement with Elections Canada significantly over the last election, and that many of the Advisory Group members' organizations played a critical role in sharing election information materials with Canadians.

He explained that, in running elections, Elections Canada strives to ensure that every Canadian who wishes to vote has an opportunity to do so. Increasingly, Canadians expect more convenient and accessible services that take advantage of technology and self-serve options. At the same time, what it means for an election to be accessible is different for everyone, and it is the agency's role to ensure that we understand Canadians' expectations and offer services that meet their diverse needs.

The CEO then outlined some of the findings detailed in the agency's recent Report on the 42nd general election of October 19, 2015, particularly the section on accessibility. The agency continues to conduct comprehensive post-election assessments and surveys and will review the experience of electors, candidates and poll workers to identify lessons learned and areas for improvement.

The CEO closed by emphasizing that the meeting of the Advisory Group is an opportunity for the agency to gain feedback on elector experiences.

Agenda Review and Roundtable

The Chair sought the Advisory Group's comments on the meeting summary from the meeting. Suggested revisions were discussed and, pending the inclusion of these revisions, the fourth meeting's summary was considered approved.

The Chair then explained the goals of the fifth meeting and expressed the hope that the comments gathered that day would help Elections Canada better understand accessibility issues and identify the most effective activities to address them.

Election Observations from Advisory Group Members

The Advisory Group spent the majority of the first day of the meeting discussing observations on electoral experiences, both from the members themselves and from others within their organizations.

In advance of the meeting and as a support tool to guide members' observations, members were given a template election journal to reflect on their personal experiences voting in the 42nd general election, incorporating any feedback received from others. The purpose of this journal was to:

  • Share with Elections Canada the experiences and observations of electors with disabilities;
  • Assess whether Elections Canada had made demonstrable improvements in accessibility for electors for the 42nd general election; and
  • Reflect on whether Advisory Group members still view the accessibility priorities, as outlined at the April 2015 meeting, in the same way or whether this view had changed.

Discussion was organized around the seven questions that members were asked to reflect on:

  1. What was your personal experience voting at the polling station? Note any interactions with election workers, tools or services used to vote and your overall opinion of the accessibility of the polling station and voting process.
  2. What feedback did you receive from persons with disabilities about their experiences while voting at the polls? Include your thoughts about that feedback.
  3. Based on your own experience and the experiences shared with you by others, which tools, services and methods were successful in aiding electors with disabilities in the voting process, and which tools, services and methods were not?
  4. How can Elections Canada continue to improve the voting experience of people with disabilities?
  5. How can Elections Canada best engage members of the Advisory Group as observers of the general election with a view to assessing the accessibility of the voting process?
  6. Have your views on accessibility priorities changed from our priority setting exercise in the April 2015 meeting? If so, how?
  7. Did the information available to you on the accessibility of the voting process affect your voting experience? If so, how?

Elections Canada received considerable feedback from Advisory Group members. Each member of the group started the discussion on a question and other members built upon the initial comments. Members and others in their networks had a wide range of experiences, with many comments indicating that Elections Canada had made meaningful improvements in its commitment to deliver an accessible election, while indicating that there remain opportunities to continue to improve its service offering.

Over the past several meetings, the Advisory Group worked on a list of recommended accessibility priorities for Elections Canada. Based on the facilitated discussions at previous meetings, as well as the observed experiences of Advisory Group members during the 42nd general election, the Advisory Group completed its list of accessibility priorities during this meeting. These priorities are included as Appendix A: Advisory Group Accessibility Priorities for Elections Canada beyond the 42nd General Election.

General Election National Outreach Program Report

In a brief afternoon session, Bradley Eddison, Outreach Officer, provided an overview of Elections Canada's General Election National Outreach Program. He explained that organizations, including those of Advisory Group members, were a key component in spreading the word to help Canadians get ready to vote. He noted that the reach of the collective outreach efforts was quite impressive; for example:

  • Almost 11 million voter information products were distributed to Canadians across the country.
  • Over 500 Twitter and 150 Facebook posts were circulated on social media by Elections Canada's extended network of partners.
  • More than 80 events were held by 15 organizations with which Elections Canada had direct contractual partnerships. Many of these events were train-the-trainer sessions with local organizations, which in turn organized even more events.

Members shared highlights from outreach initiatives that they organized through their organizations, discussed best practices in electoral outreach, and agreed that discussions will continue at future meetings on opportunities to ensure that information on when, where and the ways to register and vote reaches as many Canadians, particularly Canadians with disabilities, as possible.

Presenting Accessibility to the Advisory Committee of Political Parties

In the final session of the first day, Lisa Drouillard, Director of Outreach and Stakeholder Engagement, led a discussion about an upcoming opportunity to present priority issues on accessibility to the Advisory Committee of Political Parties (ACPP); this has been of interest to Advisory Group members for some time. It was explained that at Elections Canada's last meeting with the ACPP, Elections Canada signalled its intent to include a discussion with Advisory Group members on the agenda for the next Annual General Meeting of ACPP.

Ms. Drouillard explained that it is therefore important to begin a discussion at today's Advisory Group meeting about how members want to move forward on this opportunity, and to give some context on the mandate and functioning of the ACPP.

ACPP is a forum for information, consultation and advice on federal electoral matters between registered political parties and Elections Canada. Its purpose is to provide the CEO with advice and recommendations relating to elections and political financing. It has several objectives, including maintaining an open dialogue between Elections Canada and registered political parties. ACPP is not an advocacy group lobbying Parliament or the government on behalf of registered political parties, nor is it a forum for making binding decisions.

ACPP membership consists of two representatives of each registered party appointed by the party's leader, and it was explained that these representatives are party employees. In the case of smaller political parties, the representatives may sometimes be candidates or party leaders, but in the bigger parties, the representatives are administrators.

The agenda for ACPP meetings generally focuses on key electoral process issues that affect their parties and candidates. The prospect of a briefing by Advisory Group members has been raised with ACPP several times.

Advisory Group members began a facilitated discussion about how to approach a presentation to ACPP. Some items that may be incorporated into a presentation to ACPP include:

  • The importance of viewing policies through a disability lens;
  • Ensuring that information, including websites, is provided in accessible formats;
  • The value of providing photos of candidates on ballots, or posters of candidates at polling places;
  • Methods to permit the independent verification of ballots by electors with vision loss;
  • Voting services that can improve accessibility (aligning with the accessibility priorities that Advisory Group has identified);
  • Accessibility of all-candidates meetings for people with disabilities;
  • Funding for accommodation for candidates with a disability;
  • Ensuring that technology at the polls is accessible.

It was resolved that formulating a strategy and finalizing the details of a presentation to ACPP will be a main agenda item at the next Advisory Group meeting. Advisory Group members indicated that it will be important to be mindful of how best to provide the appropriate context on disability issues to ACPP and thanked Elections Canada for providing this upcoming opportunity.

Day 2 Opening Remarks by the Meeting Chair

To start the second day Susan Torosian, the Meeting Chair, framed the day's discussion, which focused on the continuation of the Advisory Group's mandate. Elections Canada has greatly benefited from the advice and input that each of the Advisory Group members has provided at past meetings. As a result, as Elections Canada looks to the future of the Advisory Group, the agency will be inviting current members to continue in their role.

The Chair shared some of Elections Canada's thinking on how the Advisory Group might move forward. The intention is to keep the attention of this Advisory Group on disability issues, while still recognizing that there is a longer list of accessibility issues for the agency to address. The agency believes that keeping a focus on people with disabilities will allow Elections Canada to continue to address barriers that Canadians with disabilities face in getting ready to vote and in casting a ballot.

The Chair emphasized that Elections Canada has benefited from having a relatively small group, which has allowed each member to play an active role in each and every meeting. For this reason, Elections Canada is not considering a large expansion of the group. However, Elections Canada would appreciate feedback about any disability groups that should be represented in the Advisory Group. The Advisory Group noted that its current composition has some gaps in representation and that it would be worthwhile to review the possibility of expanding its perspective by adding, for example, representatives from the Aboriginal community, the community of women with disabilities, the community of people who are hard of hearing, etc.

It was also explained that the Advisory Group is not Elections Canada's only way to consult with the disability community. This Group is intended to be central part of Elections Canada's consultations, but the agency may also engage in more targeted consultations on specific issues with specific communities.

The Chair concluded by indicating that these contextual remarks should provide a framework for today's discussion about evaluating the current group and suggestions for the future of the Group.

Evaluating the Current Advisory Group

Advisory Group members were invited to provide comments on the functioning, governance and membership of the current Advisory Group, with the intent of ensuring that the Group continues to improve in its ability to advise Elections Canada.

The facilitator began by asking Advisory Group members to focus on the elements of the Group that are working well. Members had a lot of feedback; one overarching comment was that members felt that they were being heard. Several members indicated the Advisory Group was one of the most successful advisory bodies they have been involved with. Members also said that a highlight was when they were given the opportunity to comment on concrete programs, such as Elections Canada's training modules and videos, and that going forward similar opportunities should be made available to the members where possible.

Within a context of a well-functioning committee with a robust agenda and measurable outputs, a few opportunities were identified for improvement. First, Elections Canada should attempt to ensure that meeting documentation is provided to Advisory Group members as early as possible and that members requiring content in Braille should be consulted to determine which meeting documentation should be provided in Braille at the meeting. Second, members indicated that it would be valuable for Elections Canada to establish guidelines or a protocol describing which elements of the meeting's agenda and discussion can be shared with members' organizations and networks.

Elections Canada indicated that they will continue to seek opportunities to improve the functioning of the Advisory Group.

Next Steps and Closing Comments

The Meeting Chair thanked members for sharing their election experiences and beginning the planning for the future of the Advisory Group. Restating one of the key points made in the CEO's opening remarks, the Chair emphasized that it will be critical to align the work of this Advisory Group with Elections Canada's areas of focus. In particular, there are two key items that will inform Elections Canada's work.

The first item is responding to the Government's democratic reform agenda. This agenda promises to table legislation in spring 2017 about a new voting system that will replace the "first past the post" system of representation and also calls for an examination of new ways to vote, such as online voting.

The second item is a need to further integrate technology into voting processes to improve the voter experience in federal elections. The CEO mentioned in particular exploring ways to provide more options for where Canadians can cast their ballots and reducing wait times at advance polls.

Lastly, the Chair led a discussion about agenda items for future meetings. It was agreed that the Advisory Group will need to continue planning a presentation to ACPP and that the next meeting will be used to finalize these plans. Additionally, the Advisory Group will use the next meeting to plan for, and potentially incorporate, a visit from the Minister of Democratic Reform.

Advisory Group members suggested that in preparation for a meeting with the Minister, a video could be made that would both describe their experiences from the election as well as showcase their accessibility wishes for future elections. Lisa Drouillard noted that following the meeting her team would follow up with members about this opportunity.

Members also emphasized that it will be important to discuss how the Group can contribute to the continual improvement of the election workers' training. Lastly, all parties agreed that further discussion is needed on how to build upon the relationships we have made with members' organizations and other disability groups between elections. The Chair reiterated that Elections Canada will need Advisory Group member expertise about events and opportunities in the near future where Elections Canada can engage with voters who face barriers, such as voters with disabilities.

The Chair concluded the meeting by indicating that it had once again been a pleasure to benefit from members' insight, passion and dedication, and that Elections Canada would be in touch in the coming month about the next meeting, tentatively planned for a May 2016 timeframe.

Appendix A: Advisory Group Accessibility Priorities for Elections Canada beyond the 42nd General Election

Under the theme of Independent Voting:

  1. Provide real-time sign language interpretation through remote video interpretation
  2. Produce posters for polling places with the list of candidates and their photos
  3. Provide access to an application for mobile devices that verifies or potentially casts a ballot and reads it out
  4. Provide access to accessible Internet voting
  5. Review the ballot to provide photos of candidates

Under the theme of Voting Experience at the Polls:

  1. Consult with the disability community and update the step-by-step guide (instruction manual) for returning officers on how to complete the polling place accessibility checklist
  2. Review the accessibility checklist to identify any gaps and opportunities to provide voters with information on polling place/public transit distances

Under the theme of Voting Information:

  1. Continue the usability testing of Elections Canada's print products and its website

Under the theme of Engagement and Consultation:

  1. Organize a briefing with the Advisory Committee of Political Parties (ACPP) to provide feedback on accessibility considerations for their future campaigns
  2. Renew the Advisory Group for Disability Issues model beyond 2016

Under the theme of Training for Election Workers:

  1. Evaluate and explore ways to continue improving cross-disability training of field staff including Community Relations Officers and using the expertise of Advisory Group in the design of the training

Appendix B: February 16–17, 2016, Meeting – List of Elections Canada Participants

Participants – Elections Canada
Participant Position
Marc Mayrand Chief Electoral Officer of Canada
Michel Roussel Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, Electoral Events
Jacques Mailloux Chief Information Officer
Susan Torosian Senior Director, Policy and Public Affairs
Dani Srour Senior Director, Field Readiness and Event Management
Mariann Canning Assistant Director, Field Readiness and Event Management
Lisa Drouillard Director, Outreach and Stakeholder Engagement
David Le Blanc Senior Outreach Officer
Shelley Rolland-Poruks Senior Outreach Officer
Bradley Eddison Outreach Officer
Mélanie Charron Outreach Officer
Brunella Vallelunga Assistant, Outreach and Stakeholder Engagement