Elections working to improve accessibility

Kimberly Burns and her mother Louise Eutenier pose at Burns’s group home in Regina. They hope for improved accessibility for voting at the upcoming provincial election. Photo by Theresa Kliem

Dylan Earis is a University of Regina student with cerebral palsy who has trouble marking “X” on an election ballot.

During the 2019 federal election he spoke about disappointing experiences in previous provincial and federal elections, where his mother was not allowed to help him cast his vote. In 2019, however, everything went by the book.

“The voting people actually knew what to do, like how to help me and stuff,” said Earis. “They had a book with all the rules in it.”

Accessibility is important to seniors and the 6.2 million disabled Canadians aged 15 years and over, according to a 2017 federal survey on disability.

Elections Canada is currently in the process of going through all the feedback, good and bad, it received during last year’s federal election. Matthew McKenna from Elections Canada says people’s feedback plays an important role when considering changes in election law.

“There is a number of ways, you know, everything from minor policy and procedural changes that we can do here, that we can do the next time we deliver an election or a by-election,” said McKenna. “And it goes all the way to sort of the CEO making a recommendation to Parliament.”

While Elections Canada and Elections Saskatchewan continue to consult with advisory groups to improve accessibility at federal and provincial elections, some Saskatchewanians are still frustrated when it comes to voting. Louise Eutenier is a member of the Saskatchewan Brain Injury Association. Her daughter, Kimberly Burns, is bound to a wheelchair. The 26-year-old didn’t vote at the 2019 federal election due to the lack of transportation.

“She didn’t have a ride,” said Eutenier.

“She couldn’t get there … because if you take a bus, they take you there. But then you got to sit there for over an hour, so before the next bus could come and pick you up because they only run every hour … When she lived at home, before she lived at the group home, she voted. She went with us. But I work so I don’t have time to, you know, transport her everywhere.”

In 2014, the Saskatchewan government introduced The Election Amendment Act. Among the provisions regarding better accessibility is an option for homebound voting.

“Over 500 voters used that way of voting in the 2016 general election,” said Tim Kydd, Senior Director of Outreach with Elections Saskatchewan.

“We are offering that again in the 2020 election this October … it does work well for those who simply want to vote and doing it at home works for them. But when we meet with accessibility groups one thing we hear and that we respect is their clients, voters with disabilities, want to participate as all other voters do.”

Eutenier thinks homebound voting might be an option for her daughter’s group home because all the residents are in wheelchairs.

While accessibility to elections is important, Earis believes more changes are needed in society and politics to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.

“There is advocacy, but I don’t think people really pay attention,” said Earis.

“Because they are all like taxes and stuff, but nobody ever mentions the disabled community … we as a disabled community matter … we are not included because, you know, they might not think we are smart enough maybe. It’s just a lot of generalizations.

“People will talk slow to me because they think I am not too bright … they speak to me like I am a baby. It’s weird and it’s frustrating. I am just sick of not being included.”

Elections Saskatchewan does not provide transportation services for people with disabilities. A spokesperson from the City of Regina said Monday it was too early to share information about paratransit services during the upcoming municipal and provincial elections. For more information about accessibility tools and services at the next provincial election, go to www.elections.sk.ca/accessibility.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.