During every election cycle, the CNIB Foundation receives requests from municipalities across Ontario asking how they can be more accessible in conducting their election. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) sets out the province's plan to make Ontario fully accessible to persons with disabilities by 2025, which includes the Integrated Accessibility Standard as well as the Accessibility Rules for Municipalities.
To help your community better serve the needs of people who are blind, partially sighted or Deafblind, we are happy to provide you with a compilation of resources. Every individual with sight loss is different. As people can have varying levels of sight, it is important to keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Voting independently and privately is a critical element in the democratic process, so it is incumbent upon all of us to remove barriers to participation in electing our representatives.
Under section 12.1(1) of the Municipal Elections Act, "A clerk who is responsible for conducting an election shall have regard to the needs of electors and candidates with disabilities" and section 12.1(2) requires preparation of a plan regarding the identification, removal, and prevention of barriers that affect electors and candidates with disabilities; while 12.1(3) requires this report be published within 90 days of the election. AODA and the Municipal Elections Act outline the responsibilities in providing accessible customer service and endeavoring to make elections accessible to all Ontarians.
Training for Elections Officials
Providing comprehensive training to elections staff is crucial to making your election accessible to people who are blind, partially sighted or Deafblind. Elections officials should ensure they are delivering specific and detailed training, so election staff are aware of how to help a voter with sight loss cast their ballot; independently and privately.
A great starting point would be to review AODA's Customer Service Guide in addition to their resource on the Integrated Accessibility Regulation. The CNIB Foundation has several resources that would be helpful in preparing your elections staff to work with voters living with sight loss. A great place to start is our Blindness etiquette page. We also encourage you to take a look at the Guiding someone page. These two resources are an excellent foundation to build your elections staff training.
Having elections staff with lived experience can help you identify barriers you didn't know existed and increase the diversity of your elections staff. The CNIB Foundation has resources on working with volunteers and employees who live with sight loss that would prove invaluable as a basis for preparing your team to work alongside those who are blind, partially sighted or Deafblind. You can find more information on the Hiring someone with sight loss page.
Accessible Voting Locations
Making the voting location accessible is one of most important things to consider. AODA has set out regulations on the Design of Public Spaces Standards (Accessibility Standards for the Built Environment) that should be considered when choosing a space that is accessible to voters.
Clearing Our Path outlines elements in the built environment that make a space accessible to people living with sight loss. On the site, you will find information that would be invaluable in helping you determine whether a voting site is accessible to people who are blind, partially sighted or Deafblind. For example, directional signage that is high contrast (black background with white or yellow text), large print, and at the height for your target audience (an adult's eye level). Be sure to consider the interior and exterior for accessibility.
Elections Canada also has an accessibility checklist that you can use to determine if a polling location is accessible, and the Rick Hansen Foundation has a certification program that has trained professionals visit a site and determine whether it is accessible or not.
You should also keep in mind that many individuals who are blind, partially sighted or Deafblind use public transit as their primary mode of transportation. Not only is it important to ensure voting locations are accessible by public transit, keep accessible crossings in mind if someone needs to cross the street to access the building.
Assistive Voting Terminals
These terminals can enable voters who are blind, partially sighted or Deafblind to vote independently and privately. They have an array of accessibility options such as voice-overs of candidate choices and instructions, braille markings on buttons, a touch screen, rocker paddles, and even a sip & puff tube for those who are unable to press buttons. The City of Toronto and Elections Ontario has used AUTOMARK Voter Assist Terminal to aid persons with disabilities to vote. Please note: The CNIB Foundation does not endorse one assistive voting terminal software over another, and municipalities should consult with people with disabilities and stakeholder organizations before procuring any device.
Braille is a reading and writing system that uses raised dots on a page to correspond to letters, numbers, punctuation, symbols and much more. It enables individuals who are blind, partially sighted or blind to read and write. For 10 per cent of Canadians with sight loss, braille is how they read and write. Braille templates can be an indispensable accessibility tool. The ballot is inserted into the plastic template with holes or slots that align with the proper position on the voting ballot. Templates written with braille include tactile markings to indicate where to mark the ballot to make it possible for braille users to vote. They include braille numbering and cut outs to help voters with limited or no vision mark their ballot independently.
Be careful when selecting templates – ballots can easily slip within the template and cause a voter's mark to be placed in the wrong location. Keep in mind the number of slots on the template should correspond to the number of candidates running for election. If there is more than one election with a different number of options, there should be different templates for each election.
Magnifiers could be useful to people with low vision and sight loss in casting their ballot. Elections Canada provides an illuminated magnifier with 4x magnification at their polling stations during federal elections and by-elections. You can find magnifiers at our Shop CNIB website. Some voters may already have a magnifier they use. In that case, they have been allowed to use them in federal and provincial elections provided they do not violate the rules, such as taking a photo of a completed ballot. You could also provide voters with magnifier sheets.
The CNIB Foundation has developed a resource to assist in choosing fonts and backgrounds for print materials that are easy for people living with low vision. We invite you to check out our Clear Print Guidelines. As the population ages, it is more important than ever to ensure printed materials are accessible to those living with sight loss.
Providing Deafblind Intervention
Intervenor services provide the person who is Deafblind with accurate information in an appropriate manner to enable them to make choices, plan future actions, communicate successfully, navigate their environment and achieve as much independence as possible. Elections Ontario invited individuals who are Deafblind to arrange for a registered ASL interpreter or Deafblind intervenor and had the intervenor organization invoice Elections Ontario directly for the service provided. This enables individuals who are Deafblind to vote with confidence in-person, with the assistance they need. If you would like more information about intervention, we invite you to visit the CNIB Deafblind Community Services and Canadian Deafblind Association Ontario websites.
Voting by Special Ballot
Special ballots are used by elections officials to help voters who have difficulty getting to a polling station or returning office. If voters are unable to get to a returning office or the polling location, election authorities at the federal and provincial levels give voters the option of voting with a special ballot they can mail in. It includes a write-in ballot, an inner envelope to conceal their candidate choices and an outer envelope to send to their returning office. This enables people to vote from home with the assistance of their own assistive technology, or with the help of a trusted friend.
Vote by Home Visit, at a Curbside, or in Hospital
Elections Ontario and the City of Toronto are giving voters with disabilities the option of voting by curbside, via home visit, or in hospital. This can provide voters who blind, partially sighted or Deafblind. These options are outlined in the City of Toronto's Election Accessibility Plan.
Voting with Assistance from Friends, Family, or a Support Person
Electors who are blind, partially sighted or Deafblind can vote with the assistance of a trusted friend or family member. This right is enshrined in the Canada Elections Act under section 155 (10), in the Elections Act for Ontario under section 55 (1). Although the Municipal Elections Act doesn't spell this out specifically, section 12.1 (2) does require a plan to identify, remove, and prevent barriers for electors with disabilities. Permitting individuals living with sight loss to bring a person to help them vote can be very helpful in making the voting process more accessible. Election officials should always speak directly to the elector as opposed to their friend, family member or support person, unless directed by the person to do so. This allows the person living with sight loss to vote with dignity.
In the federal and provincial legislation highlighted above, someone aiding a person must swear an oath of secrecy to not disclose who the elector voted for. They are also only allowed to help one person in this way. The legislation should prove valuable as you develop your own policy for enabling persons living with disabilities to vote with assistance from a trusted friend, family or support person, if none currently exists in your municipality.
Allowing Mobile Phones and Other Assistive Technology
In the 2018 Ontario General Election, Elections Ontario allowed individuals to use their phones as an assistive device while voting. A smartphone is more than just a phone – applications can help with reading the ballot, such as a magnifier or screen reader. That does not mean that electors are excused from complying with all applicable elections laws and regulation. It is still a violation of the Elections Act to take a photo of a completed ballot. Allowing voters to use their phone as an assistive device is one more way you can make the election process easier for electors who are blind, partially sighted or Deafblind.
Thank you for looking into how to make the voting experience accessible for voters who are blind, partially sighted and Deafblind in your municipality. For more information, visit our CNIB website and or reach us at our CNIB Helpline by calling 1-800-563-2642.