open Secondary menu

Accessibility Policy and Service Offering

May 1, 2019

Office of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada

Table of Contents

Purpose

Elections Canada is an independent, non-partisan agency that reports directly to the Parliament of Canada. Our mandate is to deliver federal elections, by-elections and referendums.

We work to ensure that all eligible Canadians can exercise their democratic rights to vote and to be a candidate.

Canadians have diverse needs, and accessibility can have a different meaning for everyone. Our long-term vision is to provide inclusive, universal and flexible services to everyone. We continually work to make election services inclusive and accessible for all Canadians.

This document explains our plans to identify, prevent and remove barriers to voting. The document also lists tools and services for people with disabilities when they vote in the 43rd general election in 2019.

This Accessibility Policy and Service Offering document is a "living" document. We will review and update it to include accessibility best practices, general election evaluations and new opportunities for improvements.

Context

According to Statistics Canada, almost 22% of Canadians identify as having a disability. Therefore, there could be over 6.2 million electors who identify as having a disability.

There are a number of laws that protect electors' rights and outline what Elections Canada must do to make voting services accessible.

Section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives every citizen the right to vote. Section 15 makes it clear that every individual in Canada—regardless of physical or mental disability—is to be considered equal.

Canada signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2010. It consulted with the provinces and territories, Indigenous governments and Canadians, particularly those from the disability community. The Convention protects the rights of persons with disabilities to equality, non-discrimination and participate fully in public and political life.

The Canadian Human Rights Act of 1977 also protects Canadians from discrimination when they work for or receive services from the federal government. It says that a person cannot be discriminated against because of a disability. We comply with the Canadian Human Rights Act in providing voting services to Canadians.

The Canada Elections Act has provisions to reduce barriers and increase accessibility. For example, we must ensure that the information we share is accessible to electors with a disability. Also, elections workers must help an elector with a disability when asked.

Disabilities are not only physical. Recent changesFootnote 1 to the Canada Elections Act updated the definition of accessibility at polling stations. To be accessible, polling stations and Elections Canada offices must be accessible to any person with any disability.

The Accessible Canada Act (Bill C-81)Footnote 2, if enacted, would add to the existing rights and protections for people with disabilities. Regulated federal entities, including Elections Canada, would have to develop:

Accessibility plans that outline strategies for improving accessibility. Plans must be developed with persons with disabilities, published and regularly updated.

Feedback tools to receive and respond to employee and citizen concerns and complaints.

Progress reports that describe how accessibility plans have been fulfilled. Reports must explain how persons with disabilities were consulted, the concerns raised and how those concerns have been addressed.

There would also be a complaint and compensation process for people who experience physical, psychological, or monetary harm because an organization did not comply with the Accessible Canada Act. Should the Act come into force, we will do what is necessary to comply.

Principles and Commitment

Elections Canada is committed to always improving the accessible electoral framework that Canadians trust and use.

We are committed to being inclusive of Canadians of all abilities. This includes accommodating electors and employees with disabilities and meeting their needs. We make every effort to make voting as accessible as possible and talk to people with disabilities about the services that affect them.

We adopt the following principles when designing our products and services:

  • Design for choice and flexibility—think inclusive.
  • Use plain language to educate and inform Canadians.
  • Learn from stakeholders and people with disabilities.
  • 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.

Accessibility Initiatives and Consultation Work

Elections Canada has worked to identify, prevent and remove barriers that electors may face.

Identifying Barriers

Elections Canada identifies barriers through consultation and public opinion research.

We work with national and provincial organizations and their networks to understand the concerns of people with disabilities. In 2011–2012, we met with 19 national and provincial disability organizations. The goal was to build better relationships with the disability community and understand its needs. We continue to use this network for advice and to reach people with disabilities to inform them about federal elections.

We launched an Advisory Group for Disability Issues (AGDI) in February 2014 to provide expertise and advice on accessibility initiatives for the 2015 federal election. The AGDI continues to help us in many ways:

  • Provides advice and feedback on initiatives, including products and tools to improve accessibility;
  • Provides input into the design of new voting processes and/or services; and
  • Recommends testing with people in the Group's member organizations.

We gather comments and complaints from electors through a voter feedback form (available online and at the polls). We also ask election workers for feedback. This information helps us identify best practices and areas of improvement on accessibility issues.

We also conduct surveys to better understand the experiences of electors with disabilities and the challenges they face when voting. The Survey of Electors includes questions such as:

  • how satisfied voters with disabilities are with the support they received from Elections Canada staff when voting at the polls,
  • whether they had accessibility issues, and
  • whether they were aware of, and used, the tools and assistance available at the polls.

These feedback tools help us improve our services to electors with disabilities.

Preventing and Removing Barriers

Elections Canada continually improves the accessibility of the electoral process. Accessibility is a key value at the polling station, among election workers, and in communications with electors.

Polling Stations

Elections Canada and the AGDI used the Canadian Standards Association's Accessible Design for the Built Environment to create a checklist of 35 accessibility criteria checklist of 35 criteria. Fifteen of these criteria are mandatory for polling stations. These criteria evaluate the accessibility of some 30,000 polling stations across the country.

Returning officers must find polling stations that meet the 15 mandatory criteria. They must evaluate the accessibility of potential sites before the election. The Policy on Selecting Suitable Polling Places has more information on how returning officers evaluate and select polling stations.

If a site does not meet the 15 criteria, the returning officer must explain to the Chief Electoral Officer why it should be used. The Chief Electoral Officer will approve or deny the use of that site.

Employment and Training

Elections Canada supports the employment of persons with disabilities and recognizes the benefits of their participation in the workforce. Our hiring practices aim to be inclusive and reflective of Canada's diversity.

For a general election, over 250,000 election workers are hired across 338 ridings. Officers in each riding train election workers on accessibility and sensitivity toward people with diverse abilities.

We provide training materials, including videos, learning activities and discussion guides. We designed our accessibility training so that election workers will:

  • value universal accessibility for everyone,
  • be aware of the accessibility tools for them and for electors at the polling station, and
  • have one or more strategies to increase accessibility based on individual needs.

We train every election worker to use the "Ask–Listen–Do" approach to offer assistance to every elector. We also encourage electors to inform election workers of their needs.

Information and Awareness

Elections Canada informs electors about the accessibility services available to them. This is an important way to prevent and remove barriers to electoral participation.

We inform electors in a number of ways. For example:

  • A personalized voter information card is mailed to all registered electors. It lists the accessibility of their assigned advance and election day polling stations. The voter information card also has information on how to request services such as sign language interpretation.
  • Community Relations Officers inform electors on when, where and the ways to register and vote, as well as the tools and services available.
  • Wherever possible, we improve our website's accessibility and ensure that our communications are in plain language and accessible formats.

More details on our service offerings are provided in the Appendix.

Policy Review and Approval

Elections Canada developed this policy with AGDI in February 2015. It was updated in 2018, based on general election evaluations, accessibility best practices and opportunities for improvements. The policy was updated again in 2019 to reflect changes made by the Elections Modernization Act.

The policy will be reviewed and revised following the 2019 general election.

Appendix: Accessible Service Offering

This document describes the accessible services and voting tools that Elections Canada offers during a general election, by-election or referendum.

Section 1: Information for Electors

Election Materials and Accessible Formats

Elections Canada has developed services and products in different formats that explain when, where and the ways to register and vote.

We offer information online, in print and in alternate formats such as large print, braille, audio and ASL/LSQ video. We offer information in 31 heritage languages and 12 Indigenous languages. We offer language interpretation services by phone. We also welcome enquiries in American Sign Language and Langue des signes québécoise from SRV Canada VRS users through Elections Canada's Public Enquiries phone line.

Our communication products also include visual products, such as videos and infographics. Publications are written in plain language and explain what to expect when you go to vote so that you are familiar with the process beforehand.

To order a publication in an accessible format, contact Elections Canada.

Our Website

The Elections Canada website complies with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) accessibility guidelines (version 2, level AA). 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 2: Registering to Vote

You must be registered to vote in a federal election. Most eligible Canadians are already registered to vote.

To register and vote in a federal election, you must:

  • be a Canadian citizen
  • be at least 18 years old on election day
  • prove your identity and address

Registering or Checking if You Are Registered Before You Go to Vote

There are two ways to register or check your registration before you go to vote:

  • Visit elections.ca and use the Voter Registration Service
    • You may be asked to provide a picture or scanned version of your ID for the number on your driver's licence or provincial or territorial card.
  • Call us at 1-800-463-6868. If you're not registered, we can send you a registration form. You'll need to fill in your information and return it by mail, with proof of identity and address.

You can also register or check if you are registered when you go to vote at any Elections Canada office across Canada or at your assigned polling station on election day or advance polling days.

Proving your Identity and Address

There are three ways for you to prove your identity and address. You can:

  • show one piece of government-issued identification that includes your name, address and photograph;
  • show two pieces of identification from the list authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer. Both must include your name and at least one must include your address;
  • make a solemn declaration and be vouched for by another elector assigned to your polling station.

If you need someone to vouch for you to help prove your identity and address, remember that:

  • Only another elector assigned to your polling station may vouch for your identity and address.
  • Electors may vouch for the identity and address of only one other person, unless they work at a senior's residence or institution serving persons with a disability. In which case, they may vouch for the identity and address of more than one elector and for all electors who reside in the same or an adjacent riding.
  • Only eligible electors (Canadian citizen at least 18 years old), that bring the proper ID to prove their identity and address, may vouch for your identity and address.

Full list of accepted pieces of ID

Section 3: Ways to Vote

Elections Canada offers a number of ways to vote.

At any Elections Canada Office across Canada

You can vote at any Elections Canada office almost any time during the election period. After an election is called, we set up offices in every riding in Canada. We also open Elections Canada Vote on Campus offices on many college and university campuses across the country for five days about two weeks before election day.

Voting at an Elections Canada office, including Vote on Campus offices, may be a more comfortable voting environment if you want to avoid lines or crowds. Voting at an Elections Canada office is different than voting on election day or advance polling days. Here, you will vote using the special ballot process.

If you vote at an Elections Canada office, an election worker will add, update or confirm your information in the National Register of Electors and give you your ballot and instructions on voting. The National Register of Electors is a database of the approximately 26 million Canadians who are eligible to vote.

Depending on where and when you vote, you might receive a regular ballot or a blank ballot that you will need to write down the full name of your chosen candidate on. An election worker or support person can help you mark your ballot, if needed. You can ask for the list of candidates for your riding if you need it.

Except for the braille list of candidates, the tools and services we offer to meet the diverse needs of voters will be available at the offices, the braille list of candidates is available at your assigned polling station on election day.

As with polling stations, returning officers must find offices that meet 15 mandatory accessibility criteria, while trying to meet all 35 criteria.

Once the election is called, contact your Elections Canada office or check the Voter Information Service on our website to see if your offices and assigned polling stations meet your needs.

Elections Canada offices hours of operation

By Mail

You can apply to vote by mail before the sixth day before election day, 6:00 p.m. You will receive a special ballot voting kit in the mail.

To vote by mail:

  • Apply online or complete a paper application form at any Elections Canada office across Canada. If you're outside Canada, you can also apply at any Canadian embassy, consulate or high commission.
  • Submit your application with a copy of your ID and we will mail you a special ballot voting kit. You will vote using the special ballot process.
  • Return your marked ballot to Elections Canada by election day.

Once you apply to vote by mail, you cannot vote any other way.

In a Hospital, Long-term Care Institution or Senior Residence

Elections Canada offers voting in hospitals, long-term care institutions and senior residences. A polling station may be set up on site or an election worker may visit electors at their bedside and help them register and vote.

Electors may receive a regular ballot or a blank ballot that they will need to write the full name of their chosen candidate on. If needed, the election worker can also assist the elector in marking the ballot.

At Home

Electors who are unable to read or unable to vote using the special ballot process because of a disability may, upon request, vote at home. Electors who request to vote at home must meet the criteria outlined in the Canada Elections Act. All other voting options (including voting by mail) must have been considered beforehand.

Contact Elections Canada before the sixth day before election day, 6:00 p.m., if you or a family member require this service.

On Advance Polling Days

Your assigned polling station will be open from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. on the Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday the week before election day.

After an election is called, check your voter information card, visit elections.ca or call your Elections Canada office to find out where to go.

All of the accessibility tools and services we offer are available on advance polling days, except the braille list of candidates.

Voter information campaign products.

On Election Day

Your assigned polling station will be open for 12 hours (times vary by province). After an election is called, check your voter information card or visit elections.ca to find out where to go.

All of the accessibility tools and services we offer will be available on election day.

Section 4: The Voting Experience

Polling Station Accessibility

After an election is called, Elections Canada sends out a voter information card to all registered voters. The card indicates the accessibility of your polling stations in one of three ways:

  • The polling station meets 15 accessibility criteria. The card shows the accessibility symbol and where to find more information.
  • The site is wheelchair accessible. The card shows the accessibility symbol along with the phone number to call to ensure that the site meets your needs.
  • The site has no wheelchair access. The card does not show the accessibility symbol. Electors are encouraged to call their Elections Canada office for options and different ways to vote to meet their needs.

You can also find accessibility information by contacting Elections Canada or on Elections Canada's website in the Voter Information Service. This includes information on when, where and the ways to vote and the accessibility of your polling station.

When you go to vote, your polling station will have either an automatic door opener or an election worker will be at the door to provide assistance. Please let this person know how they can help.

Election workers also make sure that the polling station remains accessible throughout the day.

Electors who may have difficulty voting at their polling station due to a disability may apply for a transfer certificate to vote at another polling station in the same riding.

Tools and Services

We provide a variety of tools and services to make voting accessible at Elections Canada offices (including Vote on Campus offices), at advance polls and on election day.

We offer the following tools and services:

  • magnifiers with light (4x)
  • a tactile and braille voting template
  • 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
  • voting screens that let in more light
  • large pencils
  • signature guide
  • Welcome to Your Polling Place card (guides elector through voting process)

To learn more or request a service, contact Elections Canada or view these shareable information tools.

Service Animals

Elections Canada supports the use of service animals to assist voters with disabilities when they go to vote.

In some exceptional cases, local laws might regulate the presence of service animals in public spaces. If you believe your service animal may not be permitted in your polling station, contact your Elections Canada office.

Election workers understand that service animals are working animals that should not be distracted, spoken to, or offered food.

Assistance at the Polls

If you need assistance with anything, please let the election worker know how they can help.

Sign Language Interpretation

Elections Canada recognizes that some electors may require language interpretation to help them vote.

If you require language or sign language interpretation on election day, please contact Elections Canada as soon as an election is called. Elections Canada will arrange for this service to be available at your assigned polling station.

We must receive your request before 6:00 p.m. on the sixth day before election day. We will make every effort to accommodate requests and locate interpreters in your community.

If you are getting help from a language interpreter who was not provided by Elections Canada, the interpreter will need to make a solemn declaration. The declaration will be administered by the deputy returning officer.

The interpreter may assist more than one elector.

The interpreter does not have to be an eligible elector.

Getting Help to Mark Your Ballot

Elections Canada recognizes that some electors may need help marking their ballot.

If you need help marking your ballot, you can either bring someone to help you or ask the deputy returning officer for assistance. Simply let the deputy returning officer know whether you brought someone to help you, or if you need assistance.

If you bring a helper, they will be required to make a solemn declaration to make sure they respect the secrecy of your vote. The declaration will be administered by the deputy returning officer.

If you do not have a trusted helper, an election worker can help you mark your ballot. This will always be done in the presence of another election worker. In these situations, no one else may be present.

A relative, spouse or partner may assist more than one elector. A friend or helper may assist only one elector (and they will have to make a solemn declaration swearing that they have assisted only one person).

A person can assist you whether or not they are Canadian citizens who are at least 18 years old. They do not need to be eligible electors to be a helper.

Example of assisted voting:

  1. Let the election worker know that you would like assistance to vote, and let them know how they can help. We recognize that everyone has different needs, and the election worker will assist you in the best way possible.
  2. The deputy returning officer or another election worker will ask you which candidate you wish to vote for. They will mark the ballot on your behalf behind the voting screen.
  3. The election worker will then ask you whether you want to put the ballot in the ballot box yourself or whether you prefer the deputy returning officer to do it on your behalf.

Assistive Devices

You may use an assistive device when voting, such as your own pencil, to mark the ballot, or a personal mobile device, such as a smart phone, to read the ballot behind the voting screen.

All reasonable steps should be taken to preserve the secrecy of the vote. Also, voters who use mobile devices should bring earphones and any recording made should be deleted.

The use of a mobile device and any applications required for this purpose are your responsibility. Elections Canada does not guarantee the reliability of technology in this area.

Marking the Ballot, Folding the Ballot and Casting your Vote

Once the deputy returning officer has confirmed your identity and that you are on the list of electors, they will:

  • Take a ballot from their booklet and initial the back of your ballot before handing it to you.
  • Fold it once toward the left to hide the circles where the ballots are marked.
  • Fold it a second time toward the left so the only visible part is the counterfoil, which contains a number to ensure that all ballots are accounted for.
  • Hand you a folded ballot and instruct you to go behind the voting screen and mark the circle for the candidate you wish to vote for. They will also remind you not to make any marks on your ballot other than in the circle next to your candidate.

Marking your ballot:

  • You do not need to mark the circle next to your candidate with an "X" for your vote to be valid, as long as the mark in the circle you select clearly identifies your choice and that only one circle is filled in.
  • No other marks should appear on your ballot.

Figure 1: Samples of accepted and rejected ballots

Figure 1: Samples of accepted and rejected ballots

Text version of "Samples of accepted and rejected ballots"

Folding your ballot and casting your vote:

  • After marking your ballot, fold it once toward the left to hide the circles and fold it a second time toward the left so the only visible part is the counterfoil.
  • When you return the filled in ballot to the deputy returning officer, they will check their initials on the back of the ballot and look at the number on the counterfoil to make sure that it matches the number in their booklet.
  • The deputy returning officer will then tear off the counterfoil from your ballot to ensure that your ballot is not identifiable and hand it back to you so you can put it in the ballot box.
  • If you wish to hold on to your ballot while the deputy returning officer rips the counterfoil, you can let them know.

Figure 2: Series of four images showing how to fold the ballot

Figure 2: Series of four images showing how to fold the ballot

Text version of "Series of four images showing how to fold the ballot"

Section 5: Contact Information

You can contact Elections Canada year round in the following ways:

  • 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)
    • Video Relay Services for SRV Canada VRS users
  • 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)
  • fax
    • 613-954-8584
    • 1-888-524-1444 (toll-free in Canada and the United States)
  • email
  • on social media

Elections Canada Offices

During an election, Elections Canada has offices in every riding. The contact information will be printed on your voter information card. You can also find it by entering your postal code in the Voter Information Service.

Hours of operation of Elections Canada offices:

  • 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. from Monday to Friday
  • 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Saturdays
  • 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Sundays

Hours of operation may be extended beyond these hours.

Section 6: Accessibility Feedback and Public Enquiries

If you have any questions, comments or concerns about accessibility as a result of your voting experience, here are the ways you can give us feedback:

  • complete the Voter Feedback Form by selecting the Accessibility field
  • complete the form at your polling station
  • speak with an election worker when you go to vote
  • 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 Video Relay Services for SRV Canada VRS users
  • by fax
    • 613-954-8584
    • 1-888-524-1444 (toll-free in Canada and the United States)
  • by email
  • on social media

When we receive an enquiry, we make every effort to respond within 15 working days.


Footnote 1 Parliament passed Bill C-76 on December 13, 2018, and all provisions will be in force as of June 13, 2019.

Footnote 2 At the time of writing, Bill C-81 had not been passed by Parliament.