Through the use of voting machines that read out a ballot or allow a quadriplegic elector to vote with a “sip and puff” controller, the City of Kitchener is working to make it easier for disabled residents to exercise their democratic rights. The city evaluates each poling station for accessibility, and sets up voting stations at 16 long-term care facilities or nursing homes, even allowing people to vote from their bedside if need be. “Everybody has a fundamental right to vote,” said city clerk Christine Tarling, “and so it is our obligation — and our honour — to be able to make sure we facilitate everyone who is eligible to vote, regardless of their circumstances or their limitations.” With an aging population and about 15.5 per cent of Ontarians reporting some limits on their activity because of disability, the province has increased its requirements for municipalities to remove barriers for disabled citizens. As part of that, municipalities are expected to ensure the election is as accessible as possible.
Provincial law doesn’t specify what measures a municipality should undertake, but the city consults with its inclusiveness co-ordinator, and the Grand River Accessibility Advisory Committee. “We want to make sure the measures we’re using are actually going to be helpful,” Tarling said.
To that end, the city leased voting machines equipped with special equipment to make it easier for disabled voters to cast their ballots independently. A voter can control the machine through a paddle with extra-large buttons, or through a sip and puff tube, and have ballot options read out. Once the voter has made their choices, the machine prints out a ballot with the choices marked, and the ballot is tabulated like any other voter’s.
The machines cost an extra $21,485, and one was used at each of the five advance polling locations during the four advance polling dates. Tarling didn’t have statistics on how often they were used, but said, “I know we had several people using them.”