Disabled voters still feeling left out of Manitoba election: disability advocate

Despite better accessibility at the polls, some voters with disabilities still find themselves hitting barriers when it comes to learning about provincial party platforms and 2019 election candidates running in their riding.

People with disabilities are not feeling a part of election process, advocate says

Megan Linton, who is disabled, would like to hear more discussion about disability justice in the provincial election. (Submitted by Megan Linton)

As Manitobans prepare to head to the polls, some voters with disabilities still encounter hurdles to learning about provincial party platforms and the candidates.

Although Elections Manitoba says people have many convenient ways to vote in the upcoming election, a disability advocate says participation in the political process remains widely inaccessible to people with disabilities.

"We still see lots of candidates' offices and volunteer stations [and] voting information sessions to be incredibly inaccessible spaces, so that's kind of like starting the election off for disabled folks already on the wrong foot," said Megan Linton, who is disabled.

"I think that that is a very disheartening and frustrating thing," she said.

Linton said she and others living with disabilities were hoping for better access to candidates' offices and candidates themselves — changes from the last elections which have not been implemented despite the Accessibility for Manitobans Act.

Improvements have been implemented to allow people to cast ballots, but there's still lack of progress when it comes to access to voter engagement and accessibility to the electoral process, she said.

In some cases, voters might struggle just to get in the door. Some polling stations remain inaccessible or do not include accessibility details about entrances, she said.

"For lots of people who either don't know or don't know that about their voting station, that can cause concern and limited access."

Disability advocate Megan Linton says accessibility issues have gained momentum and politicians have started tuning in in recent years, but more needs to be done when it comes to engaging disabled voters in the electoral process. (riopatuca/Shutterstock)

Linton said she has noticed these elections have focused on healthcare but have so far glazed over accessibility issues within the healthcare system, which suggests disabilities are being ignored. There is limited representation among candidates when it comes to understanding and experiencing what it means to live with disabilities.

"No one within that debate is a disabled person," Linton said.

The goal isn't necessarily to have disabled candidates on the ballot, but to have discussions "about disability justice in a really meaningful way is something that hopefully one day will happen," she said. 

Manitobans may have noticed signs popping up on lawns for Disability Matters, a local political advocacy group drawing attention to accessibility issues this election season. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Elections Manitoba has taken steps to make it easier for voters with disabilities to cast a vote.

Disability Matters has launched its campaign to highlight issues for Manitoba's disabled people and their families as the provincial election looms in the fall. (Rudy Gauer CBC)

Voters who are unable to vote at a voting place due to a disability may apply to mark a ballot at home. Caregivers may also apply online to vote at the same time, the province's chief electoral office said in a press release.

In addition to homebound voting, Elections Manitoba said it provides several services to assist voters with disabilities:

  • Voters may request a language or sign language interpreter by Sept. 2.
  • Voting places have Braille ballot templates, large print lists of candidates, magnifying rulers and easy-grip pencils.
  • Voters may bring someone to help them vote or a voting officer may assist them.

Advance polls open next Thursday and run until Sept. 5 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday to Saturday, and from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, with some exceptions. Check the Elections Manitoba website for details on locations and hours.

The 2019 election day falls on Sept. 10.

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With files from Cameron MacLean