How can P.E.I.'s election be as accessible as possible?
P.E.I. Council of People with Disabilities says physical and intellectual barriers persist
Walking into a candidate's office, or understanding campaign material, isn't the same for everyone, says Marcia Carroll, executive director of The P.E.I. Council of People with Disabilities.
She said an estimated 20,000 Islanders have some form of disability and she hopes each political party does what it can to make this provincial election accessible to all Islanders.
"We recommend all parties adopt a disability lens," said Carroll.
She said ideally, that would mean someone who uses a wheelchair can enter and navigate campaign offices. And someone with an intellectual impairment can become engaged in the process, understanding the issues and connecting with candidates, through the use of plain language.
"I think that all parties are trying their best," said Carroll. "I think they try but with time constraints and limited understanding of some of the issues it's kind of a piecemeal plan if it's a plan at all."
Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker said his party put a lot of time and effort into finding accessible spaces for campaign offices.
"A number of those offices are accessible. The only ones that are not, as far as I'm aware, are the ones in Charlottetown," he said.
Bevan-Baker said in terms of accessible messaging, his party concentrates a lot of its energy on communicating simple ideas through social media and has produced a series of short videos on candidates and party platform topics.
"I think in terms of accessibility, people like to watch those little videos," said Bevan-Baker.
"It's hard work to sit down and work your way through what are often complex issues and difficult policies."
"I think that's where one-on-one visits are important," said Liberal candidate for District 11, Roxanne Carter-Thompson, who said when it comes to supporting voters or potential candidates with disabilities, it's important to listen.
"What I find is really helpful is when the individual helps to come up with the solutions because they know what works best for them and we work with them to support them," she said.
She also said that she's spent time with one of her campaign volunteers who has a visual impairment, to adapt the process to that person's individual needs.
Carter-Thompson acknowledges that it's not easy for all campaign headquarters to be accessible to wheelchair users because of the shortage of rental options and amenities at existing facilities. But she said she's proud that her office is accessible.
So is her Progressive Conservative opponent for District 11, Ronnie Carragher, who has a main floor, barrier-free Charlottetown office.
"It's a conversation that we had with all of us involved," he said.
"Certainly being inclusive to all Islanders is an important goal for all of us as a party and a campaign, which is why my campaign office is physically accessible and wherever possible we strive to use campaign material that is accessible from a visible and plain language lens."
'Allow parties to plan'
NDP Leader Joe Byrne said every effort is made to accommodate the unique needs of both candidates and constituents — and he regrets that his party wasn't able to secure an accessible headquarters.
"We try and make it work as best we can," said Byrne. "And make sure that if somebody can't get in that we can get out to them."
Byrne said something that could help all parties better plan for accessibility, whether it's suitable campaign offices or material that everyone can engage with, is a fixed election date.
"Give some predictability to an election date, allow parties to plan, set some thresholds that are there to make sure that everybody can engage," Byrne said.
Elections P.E.I.: Accessibility is vital
Elections P.E.I. said everything possible is done to make sure the voting process runs smoothly for all Islanders. They say each polling station is inspected with a check-list to ensure it is well-lit and accessible, with either a ramp, a lift or an elevator, with any dangerous inclines clearly marked.
Staff undergo training to ensure they are respectful and sensitive to individual needs and that assistance is always available to anyone who requires it during the voting process.
That includes the use of special templates to help those who are visually impaired mark their ballot.
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