We are one week away from a federal election in Canada, a chance for all Canadian citizens, including those who are blind or partially sighted, to employ their democratic right and have a say in who forms the next government for our country.
Going into this election, the CNIB Foundation has been working with Elections Canada to make voting more accessible for Canadians who are blind or partially sighted. To help accomplish this, the CNIB Foundation held workshops in a number of cities in every province across Canada.
In my home province of Alberta, CNIB Foundation held seven workshops in total, in Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Grande Prairie, and Camrose. Conducting these sessions on behalf of CNIB gave me the chance to visit parts of Alberta I hadn’t visited yet.
One such place was Grande Prairie, in northern Alberta. It was a cold and windy trip up to that part of the province, and I was there for less than 24 hours, so I didn’t get out to explore the city quite as much as I would’ve liked, but the people were nice, and very helpful.
On my flight home from Grande Prairie to Calgary, I was seated next to a man from Texas who had been on a hunting trip with some friends. I told him my reason for traveling to Grande Prairie and he responded with a bit of surprise, saying he’d never really thought about blind people voting and how they would do that. He went on to say that he thought what I was doing was pretty cool.
I think it’s pretty cool too.
Elections Canada has put a lot of effort into making the voting process accessible. For people with sight loss, this means having candidate lists available in both large print and braille, having 4x hand-held magnifiers available at polling stations, and new this year, having a plastic braille overlay that the ballot can be inserted into, which allows voters who are blind or partially sighted to mark their own ballot.
In past years, people with vision impairment often had to ask for assistance in marking their ballot, either from a friend, family member, or worker at a polling station. Those options are still available for people who are comfortable doing that, but for anyone who wants to be fully independent in marking their ballot, there are now more options.
Recognizing how important technology is for many people with sight loss, Elections Canada will also allow voters to use the built-in magnifier functions that are available on many smart phones. For those who are familiar with it, apps such as Microsoft’s Seeing AI are also usable, provided the voter does not use any of the functions that take a photo of the ballot. For apps like Be My Eyes, and AIRA, which connect the user to a live person who can assist them in performing tasks or finding their way, Elections Canada has said voters with sight loss can use those apps to navigate their way into and around the polling station, but use of those apps is not permitted behind the privacy screen for marking the ballot.
Being able to vote in elections is a great privilege given to any citizen of Canada over the age of 18, and with efforts being made by all levels of government to reduce or eliminate barriers to voting, I hope and strongly encourage all eligible voters to get out and vote. Advance polls close today, so for those who’ve already voted, I applaud you for doing your part. If you’re like me and you prefer to vote on the actual election day, I’ll see you at the polls on October 21st.
For a list of the accommodations available for voters with disabilities, polling locations, and to see if you’re on the registered voters list, visit https://www.elections.ca/