British Columbia

Confusion over accessibility at polling stations could deter those with mobility issues, voter says

A confusing trip to the advance polls has a Vancouver Island woman worried others with mobility issues could be discouraged from voting. 

Both of Margo Bok's polling stations were deemed inaccessible to wheelchairs — but both have functional ramps

Elections Canada says it wants to ensure everyone who wants to vote has the opportunity to, and voters who have any questions about accessibility can call the number on their voter information card. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

A confusing trip to the advance polls has a Vancouver Island woman worried that others with mobility issues could be discouraged from voting. 

Margo Bok ​​​​​'s voter card said she could cast her ballot at a local church in the advance polls, or at a middle school on election day.

But Bok, who lives in the riding of Esquimalt–Saanich–Sooke, spotted a problem: the ballot card said both sites had no wheelchair access and provided a number to discuss other options.

She hoped to cast her ballot with her mother, Kathleen, at Esquimalt United Church on Friday. Bok, 56, has limited mobility due to cerebral palsy and her mother, 84, uses a walker.

"There was no place for me to safely take out the walker close to the church, because there's no place to park temporarily," Bok said.

"So we didn't vote there."

Instead, Bok and her mother drove about eight kilometres to an Elections Canada office in Victoria. They found a disabled parking spot and voted. 

Bok says both the church and Rockheights Middle School, the election day polling station, have been used in previous elections. She's not sure why both were listed on her voter card as inaccessible for wheelchair users but worries that could turn those with limited mobility away from voting.

"I think having something like that on the card itself scares off a lot of people," she said. 

In an email, Elections Canada spokesperson Andrea Marantz said both polling stations have functional ramps and are, in fact, wheelchair accessible.

Margo Bok's voter information card showed both her polling stations were not wheelchair accessible. Both her and her mother have limited mobility, and weren't sure where to go. (Facebook: B.C. Disability Caucus)

In this case, the ramps were steeper than the 4.8-degree incline Elections Canada has deemed acceptable for a polling station. That's why the card said it was not wheelchair accessible.

These are often ramps at older buildings that people with mobility issues may already be familiar with and feel comfortable using, Marantz said. 

In most cases, the confusion can be cleared up with a quick call to the number on the card — and Elections Canada wants to ensure everyone who wants to vote has the opportunity to, Marantz said.

"In this case, the voter would have learned that the locations are accessible," Marantz said. "In cases where they are not, other arrangements can be made for the disabled voter."

Polling stations must meet list of criteria

Paul Gilbert, spokesman for the B.C. Disability Caucus, said he was also told by Elections Canada the locations are technically accessible — but the slope on the wheelchair accessible ramp is too steep by the election agency's standards, so the sites were deemed inaccessible on voter cards.

According to Elections Canada, polling stations must meet a list of 38 criteria, several of which are mandatory, to be suitable as a polling station.

Mandatory criteria include having a level access to the entrance and having the voting room on the same level as the entrance. 

Having an exterior pathway free of a long slope or steep incline is not mandatory.

Bok said she was glad to sort out the issue early when she had the time to drive to the Elections Canada office to vote.

For voters with limited mobility who don't look at their cards before election day, she worries the message could prove confusing for those who don't call the listed number.

"I just hope that people aren't dissuaded from voting and get the message out that there's other ways to vote that is not putting the burden on them to go out of their way," she said. 

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