Make campaign offices more accessible, Thunder Bay lawyer says
A Thunder Bay lawyer and advocate for those with disabilities has made recommendations to the parliamentary committee drafting the Fair Elections Act.
Dave Shannon addressed the committee Monday night in Ottawa.
He said the law needs to make it mandatory that all candidates' campaign offices be accessible — even temporary campaign spaces should be open to people with disabilities.
"It really isn't an excuse in the 21st century to say that it cannot be done. Really, there are numerous options,” Shannon said.
Dave Shannon's recommendations to the Parliamentary Committee on the new Fair Elections Act include:
- That the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs recommends enhanced and broadened funding through the Enabling Accessibility Fund to help achieve greater accessibility during a federal election.
- That Elections Canada communicate with the individual candidates about expectations of accessibility.
- That the new Fair Elections Act adopts and implements an accessibility standard for all campaign websites, offices and meeting spaces during a federal election.
- That the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs mandate campaign office accessibility in the legislation.
Campaign websites should also be made accessible, with adaptations for those with vision or hearing impairments, he noted.
Shannon was invited to speak to the standing committee because he is the lead researcher on a paper, in collaboration with the Canadian Disability Policy Alliance, which points to problems in the last Ontario election. Their research found campaign offices were usually not wheelchair accessible, and that there was a lack of understanding of the importance of making political campaigns accessible to those with disabilities.
Shannon noted it's already mandatory that all polling stations be wheelchair accessible — and the same should be true for campaign offices and constituency offices.
He said it is easy to make these buildings accessible, despite the temporary nature of them.
"We know that there is a lot of accessible space. A lot of space, with new technology, can be made very accessible. Websites can be made accessible for the visually and hearing impaired,” he said.
“These are the things that political parties need to turn their head to.”
'Pushed out of the democratic process'
Shannon said people with disabilities are a voting community of 4.4 million Canadians.
“It would be undemocratic to disallow them to participate,” he said.
Shannon said his research has found that people with disabilities really want to be involved in the democratic process, but the barriers for that population are high.
"Although they're terribly keen to vote, many are being pushed out of the democratic process."
Starting at the grassroots level is key, he added.
"Unfortunately, campaign offices are [mostly] not accessible, so we think that it would be very appropriate for the Fair Elections Act to include a provision that campaign offices be accessible and include everyone in Canada."