open Secondary menu

Advisory Group for Disability Issues (AGDI) March 29–30, 2022 Meeting Summary

Table of Contents


The Advisory Group for Disability Issues (AGDI) was convened for a virtual meeting over two afternoons on March 29–30, 2022. The objective was to obtain AGDI members' feedback and suggestions based on their experiences—and those of their communities—with activities Elections Canada (EC) conducted during the 44th general election (GE) during the COVID-19 pandemic . Moreover, EC provided a high-level overview of the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO)'s Recommendations Report to Parliament, as well as EC's long-term commitments toward accessibility, as required by the Accessible Canada Act. Lastly, AGDI members were informed of EC's consultation approach on forthcoming initiatives for which their participation may be solicited.

The meeting was co-chaired by Miriam Lapp, Senior Director, Research, Consultations, and Civic Education, and Juan Melara-Pineda, Senior Analyst and Team Lead, Accessibility Plan. It was facilitated by Alain Rabeau, Principal, Senior Consultant, Facilitator and Trainer, Intersol Group.

This summary follows the order of the meeting agenda. The list of participants is included in the appendix.

Introductory Remarks

Presenter: Miriam Lapp, Senior Director, Research, Consultations, and Civic Education

Ms. Lapp welcomed AGDI members to their first gathering since the last GE. She began by acknowledging the traditional unceded and unsurrendered territory of the Anishinaabe Algonquin people she resides in, and recognized that all attendees were located in different traditional Indigenous territories. Miriam explained that it was her first time co-chairing an AGDI meeting, and she introduced herself and Juan Melara-Pineda, also co-chair. She wished a special welcome to four new members who were participating in their first AGDI meeting.

A brief roundtable was conducted to allow AGDI members to introduce themselves to the group.

Experiences of the 44th General Election

Presenter: Juan Melara-Pineda, Senior Project Manager, Corporate Accessibility Plan

The goal of this segment was to present highlights from the 44th GE and allow AGDI members to share their key takeaways from the election.

Dr. Melara-Pineda first gave context to the challenges EC encountered in delivering the 44th GE during the pandemic. He explained that having to plan an election without a fixed date exacerbated logistical challenges such as recruiting poll workers, serving vulnerable electors, renting polling places and voting by special ballot. Juan shared the positive outcomes of the last GE, most importantly that the election was conducted safely and that proper health and safety measures were in place at the polls. Before asking AGDI members to share their voting experience, Juan acknowledged that, despite the successes we saw in the GE, many electors with disabilities still face barriers to voting and noted that some of these barriers were exacerbated by the pandemic.

AGDI members were then invited one-by-one to share their key takeaways from their voting experience, including their suggestions to address the issues they—or members of their communities—faced. Some of the feedback indicated that, while the pandemic safety measures were appreciated, some measures created new barriers for certain electors. For example, an AGDI member mentioned that masks prevented them from being able to read lips. To increase accessibility, someone recommended that EC explore ways to make Video Relay Services more readily available at the polls.

Some of the feedback indicated that the Voter Information Campaign products were helpful and that messages were well-delivered, especially through social media platforms, but that the information regarding health and safety measures was confusing. Similarly, some AGDI members indicated that the key dates to vote-by-mail could have been communicated earlier on in the process to ensure that electors could have more time to mail their ballot so that it would be returned to EC before the deadline.

AGDI members raised the importance for electors who are blind or partially sighted to be able to independently verify their ballot regardless of when they vote during the election period. Members mentioned that these electors also find it challenging to register online.

A few members raised the issue of training for poll workers when it comes to serving electors with disabilities. In some cases, electors felt that their needs were neither understood nor met. AGDI members noted that there seemed to be misconceptions among poll workers about the needs of electors with disabilities. Conversely, the needs of electors with invisible disabilities were not always taken seriously. A member suggested that we further leverage the role of community relations officer. Overall, members agreed that poll workers were welcoming and courteous.

Lastly, members expressed concerns about the lack of accessibility of the services offered by political parties and candidates during their campaigns. Members noted that most political parties and candidates did not offer accessible events, campaign activities or campaign literature during the writ period.

Elections Canada's Accessibility Plan

Presenter: Juan Melara-Pineda, Senior Analyst and Team Lead, Accessibility Plan

The purpose of this consultation was to ensure that the views of people with disabilities are considered and integrated into every stage of the process of developing the accessibility plan.

Dr. Melara-Pineda presented EC's strategy to increase accessibility. He described EC's overall vision for accessibility and provided examples of outcomes and activities that EC will undertake in order to achieve each priority outlined in the Accessible Canada Act.

A preparatory document was shared before the meeting so that AGDI members could familiarize themselves with the content. They were asked to provide feedback on the various sections of the plan and to identify any gap or missing element. There was an overall consensus from AGDI members that the vision and strategy should cover all the important details. AGDI members drew attention to the fact that the needs of people who require assistive technology and support must be taken into consideration as EC plans to roll out accessibility enhancements and assistive technology. AGDI members indicated their support for the "accessibility by design" principle for IT solutions. To support this, they gave many examples. They responded well to EC's plan to include people with disabilities in the development process (e.g. to test online forms and technologies). Members also encouraged EC to state in its vision how the standards developed by Accessibility Standards Canada fit into EC's plan.

AGDI members were overall supportive of the examples of activities and outcomes provided in the strategy, but also made a number of suggestions for specific business areas. For example, one AGDI member stated that EC should consider the systems and processes that perpetuate the exclusion of people with disabilities in the area of employment. Someone recommended that we implement a mechanism to receive feedback. Several AGDI members mentioned the importance of using social media and the Internet as an avenue for hearing a wider variety of perspectives. They suggested that EC conduct outreach with people who experience homelessness and to make sure that employees are aware of the link between homelessness and mental health. Someone suggested that, in order to engage electors who are experiencing homelessness, EC should give a talk at an annual conference which will be attended by organizations and support workers that serve Canadians who are experiencing homelessness.

Overall, the feedback that AGDI members gave on the strategy for EC's Accessibility Plan was very supportive and positive. AGDI members felt that the document captured all the elements that they consider to be a priority for accessibility. Dr. Melara-Pineda informed members that they would be consulted again at the next meeting on the draft plan and timelines.

Chief Electoral Officer's Remarks

Presenter: Stéphane Perrault, Chief Electoral Officer

In his remarks, the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) acknowledged the constructive criticism AGDI members gave about their own experience of the last GE and that of their community.

The CEO noted that he was not at liberty to disclose his specific recommendations before submitting the Recommendations Report to Parliament, but he did share a brief overview of the two main themes that would be found in the report. The CEO provided an overview of EC's recently launched digital strategy and its implications for improving the accessibility services that EC offers. The CEO reiterated that the transformation agenda is not tied to the election readiness calendar. EC will pursue initiatives and integrate them into electoral services as these services become ready. He indicated that the strategy is to create digital tools that meet the needs and expectations of users. Mr. Perrault noted that the digital transformation strategy will touch on all of the business lines at EC and all the tools and services that are used by external and internal users. The CEO indicated that a major aspect of the digital transformation strategy will be to adopt a user-centric approach.

The CEO briefed AGDI members about a parliamentary study on including Indigenous languages on the ballot, an initiative he had discussed in a parliamentary committee the previous day (more information available on the Parliament's website). He noted that it would be a challenge to accommodate additional languages without creating new barriers to electoral participation for people with low literacy or who are visually impaired, by making the ballot too complicated. The CEO described the four options he gave to Parliament and reiterated that he recommends the option that does not require legislative changes.

The CEO made a final point about how EC is preparing for the next GE under a minority government. He spoke about the situation in Kenora in the 44th GE and noted that EC is looking to improve advance polling services in remote communities. The CEO then turned the floor to AGDI members for the question period.

Recruitment of Returning Officers

Presenters: Lisa Drouillard, Senior Director, Field Operations and Jérémie Martineau, Acting Director, Field Recruitment

Ms. Drouillard shared EC's strategic vision for hiring poll workers, including returning officers (ROs), to build an inclusive workforce that better represents the electors it serves. She mentioned that improving diversity among ROs could also help improve the diversity of poll workers, which could in turn improve the awareness and sensitivity of poll workers who serve different groups. Ms. Drouillard acknowledged that such changes take time and she briefed AGDI members on the concrete changes that EC is planning to make in its recruitment procedures in order to improve diversity.

Mr. Martineau shared the short- and long-term objectives of the recruitment strategy, which he noted will ultimately help close the gap for women, people with disabilities, Indigenous people, visible minorities and other equity seeking groups. Mr. Martineau provided an overview of the RO's role, which ties into the barriers that EC faces when recruiting. He then asked members to share their views on what practices EC could adopt to help individuals with disabilities feel comfortable self-identifying when applying for a job, and their recommendations for increasing diversity among ROs.

AGDI members agreed that they would rather self-identify as having a disability after being successful in a hiring process, rather than doing so when applying. They also noted that, without knowing who would have access to this information, some of them may prefer not to disclose their disability, or even not to apply to positions at all. They indicated that accommodation needs differ from one individual to the other, and that it's preferable to ask someone directly about their preferred communication methods and accommodation needs. Some AGDI members raised concerns about the abilities that are required and the job conditions of an RO, which some felt may not seem suitable for people with disabilities or people who need assistance. Some AGDI members expressed skepticism about whether it is possible to fully accommodate someone with a disability to perform the duties of an RO.

AGDI members gave various recommendations, such as increasing the level of education that is required for staff who are involved in the training process, and offering training options and schedules that are more flexible. Overall, AGDI members agreed with the strategic approach Ms. Drouillard and Mr. Martineau presented, but reiterated that people with disabilities face persistent barriers when applying for jobs.

Voting Services

Presenter: Danielle Duquette, Director, Alternative Voting Methods

Ms. Duquette gave background information on alternative voting methods that EC has explored in the past. She briefed new AGDI members and reminded returning members that EC piloted assisted voting technology for voters with disabilities for the first time in 2010. Given the logistical challenges encountered and the limitations of the technology at the time, we concluded that this technology did not integrate well into the federal electoral process and, as a result, efforts were not pursued.

Ms. Duquette indicated that EC will be starting a new pilot project this year on a new generation of assistive technologies that will help blind and partially sighted electors independently verify their vote. She noted that this could include using optical character recognition technology or creating an application.

Ms. Duquette gave an overview of EC's goals in regard to the accessibility of voting services for the coming years before concluding with an overview of the timelines for the work EC is undertaking. AGDI members indicated that the disability community must be involved from start to finish in the process of choosing technology or developing applications. Members also stressed the importance of helping electors at the polls if they are not familiar with technology. In addition, one AGDI member warned EC not to rely strictly on technology as technology can itself be a barrier to voting because vulnerable populations, such as Indigenous people, seniors, low-income earners and those who live in rural areas face barriers to accessing technology. In addition, the noise and light emitted by technological tools can cause sensitivity issues for people with certain disabilities.

EC heard a recommendation that people should have the opportunity to test the technology before the election, or at the polls before casting their vote. Additionally, AGDI members emphasized that poll workers need to be trained to help electors who experience issues with the technology. AGDI stressed the importance of promoting the technology ahead of time by working with organizations in the field of accessibility to help share information with voters.

Voter Registration Services

Presenter: Brenda Sandelin, Manager of National Voter Registration Projects and Electoral Readiness

Ms. Sandelin began her presentation by describing the Online Voter Registration Service, its purpose and functionalities, before elaborating on the current paper-based voter information card (VIC). Ms. Sandelin told AGDI members that EC is considering adding an electronic version of the VIC, which would help address some accessibility issues. Furthermore, Ms. Sandelin listed the enhancements that EC is considering making to registration services and tools to make them more accessible and user-friendly. Ms. Sandelin asked AGDI members to share positive experiences they have had with using comparable online registration services.

AGDI members indicated that the identification component of the online registration process was still lacking accessibility, particularly for people who are blind or partially sighted. Members unanimously reiterated that EC needs to provide an alternative that does not solely rely on technology. A member reminded EC that it should consider populations who may need to be reached using different communication methods, such as electors with low literacy and electors who are deaf. AGDI members noted that seniors may prefer to update their information by phone rather than online. On the subject of creating an application to help electors register to vote, one member suggested that we broaden the scope in order to help electors vote by sharing information on voting dates, voting methods, polling locations, accessibility features, directional maps, etc. Communicating changes early on and making sure that EC offers adequate support to electors remained part of AGDI members' key recommendations.

Forward Calendar & Closing Remarks

Presenter: Miriam Lapp, Senior Director, Research, Consultations, and Civic Education and Paul Jorgenson, Senior Outreach Officer, Consultation Services

Ms. Lapp thanked members for their valuable feedback. She summarized what had been discussed over the last two afternoons. EC let AGDI members know about future consultations that will be taking place under EC's Accessibility Plan. Ms. Lapp noted that we will be soliciting the input of AGDI members again in the future to support internal processes to ensure accessibility considerations are included in EC's planning.

Before adjourning the meeting, we asked members to mark their calendar for the next AGDI meeting that will be taking place at the end of September 2022.


Meeting Agenda

Day 1: Tuesday, March 29, 2022

12:30–1:00 p.m. Sound check with AGDI members

1:00–1:30 p.m. Welcome, logistics, housekeeping and introductions

1:30–2:40 p.m. Experiences of the 44th general election

2:40–2:55 p.m. Break

12:55–4:25 p.m. Elections Canada Accessibility Plan

14:25–4:35 p.m. Wrap-up

Day 2: Wednesday, March 30, 2022

12:40–1:00 p.m. Greeting of AGDI members

1:00–1:10 p.m. Agenda and objectives

1:10–1:40 p.m. Chief Electoral Officer's remarks

1:40–2:20 p.m. Recruitment of returning officers

2:20–2:35 p.m. Break

2:35–3:05 p.m. Voting services

3:05–3:35 p.m. Voter registration services

3:35–4:10 p.m. Forward Calendar and closing remarks

4:10 p.m. Adjournment

List of Participants

Advisory Group for Disability Issues members
  • Dr. Gary Birch
  • Danique Buissé
  • Michael Ciarciello
  • Kory Earle
  • Hélène Hébert
  • Roxana Jahani Aval
  • Duane Morgan
  • Jocelyne Pambrun
  • Noah Papatsie
  • Dr. Jewelles Smith
  • Christopher Sutton
Elections Canada staff present for the duration or part of the meeting
  • Bazinet, Denis;
  • Borutskie, Dawn;
  • Canning, Mariann;
  • Caron, Serge;
  • Collin, Jean-Marc;
  • Collins, Erin;
  • Desbiens, Céline;
  • Desrosiers, Annie;
  • Drouillard, Lisa;
  • Duquette, Danielle;
  • Henley, Cyntia;
  • Jorgenson, Paul;
  • Lapp, Miriam;
  • Lavoie, Mario;
  • Martineau, Jérémie;
  • Martineau, Sophie;
  • Mcpeake, Zoe;
  • Melara-Pineda, Juan;
  • Mendez, Jennifer;
  • Messier, Maxime;
  • Morris, Chris;
  • Péloquin-Hopfner, Joseph;
  • Perrault, Stephane;
  • Roussel, Michel;
  • Sandelin, Brenda;
  • Šindik, Siniša;
  • Webb, Alan.
Meeting facilitator

Alain Rabeau, Senior Consultant, Facilitator and Trainer, Intersol Group