Council receives post-election accessibility report

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

The Town of Fort Frances now has a better understanding of how it performed during last year’s municipal election in terms of accessibility.

During Monday night’s meeting of town council, the town’s municipal clerk Gabrielle Lecuyer delivered her Post-Election Accessibility Report, a provincially mandated report that must be completed within 90 days of the voting day of a municipal election. Lecuyer noted the purpose of the report is to identify, remove and prevent barriers that affect both electors and candidates who have accessibility needs.

“You’ll see within your report it does identify accessibility achievements that were noted, and also identifies where improvements may be needed as well,” Lecuyer told council during her presentation.

“We are required for a municipal election to have an accessibility plan, which we had and was on the website, and provided to each candidate as required.”

Lecuyer noted that one of the primary focuses of the town’s plan ahead of last year’s election was to focus on alternative voting methods, particularly over the internet and by telephone. The ease of use provided by the two alternative methods were found to be very beneficial to those who have accessibility requirements that make attending some town facilities more difficult, be they around mobility or visual impairment. It also allowed voters to use assistive technology or devices they had at their own home to help them cast their ballot.

Those choosing to vote by telephone were were provided a PIN and telephone number where they could access an audio ballot, and internet voters could use any number of devices to access a special site provided by a Voter Instruction Letter. The site also met the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines so that those with disabilities were able to perceive, understand, navigate and interact with the system with as much ease as possible.

“We did identify internet and telephone voting being a huge asset in providing an accessible election,” Lecuyer said.

“And for individuals who did not have the means to access telephone and internet, there were also voter help centres that were available. We had a location here on site at the Civic Centre that was open throughout the entire voting period, and we did visit, I believe, up to eight other locations in the community to provide that assistance for individuals that just didn’t have the means to cast their ballot.”

Among the locations Elections Officials visited to provide assistance in voting included Rose, Green and Elizabeth Manors, Columbus and Flinders Place, Rainycrest and the extended care wing of La Verendrye Hospital.

Even with all the extra measures in place to ensure everyone who wanted to was able to vote, the report was also intended to highlight ways in which the town fell short, either through a lack of foresight, or simple infrastructure deficits. Lecuyer notes that one pinch point was identified at the Civic Centre, specifically that the Accessible Washrooms at the Centre require individuals to ring a bell to have staff come and unlock an elevator, as well as to enable actual use of the elevator. Lecuyer said this is a problem when it comes to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

“Under AODA individuals have a right to dignity and independence,” she wrote.

“This would be even more pronounced when requiring acces to a washroom facility, but individuals require staff assistance from start to end. This is deemed an accessibility barrier to be forwarded to the Accessibility Committee.”

Other hiccups identified in the report, but were found to be user error rather than barriers to accessibility, included voters struggling with the length of the PIN provided for voting, issues entering their date of birth and the CAPTCHA verification on the online site. Lecuyer also noted some other improvements could be considered for future elections, including touchscreens at the in-person Voter Help Centres for those who might have difficulty using a standard computer mouse.

“There were some individuals that had mobility issues and found that the mouse was quite challenging for them to utilize,” she recalled.

“So we were able to guide them through a touchscreen, and the feedback we received was phenomenal, so moving forward looking at future elections, when we’re conducting our other Voter Help Centres in other locations, I think a combination of touchscreen and having a laptop would be fantastic to have as options for individuals.”