TORONTO — Matt Wozenilek almost lost the chance to vote four years ago.
Not because he wasn’t eligible. But because he couldn’t get in the door.
Wozenilek, who uses a wheelchair, went to a Guelph school to vote in the 2011 federal election but couldn’t get into the building: A heavy door blocked his way.
A passerby held the door for him and Wozenilek finally voted. But he decided then and there that he “shouldn’t have to put up with that.”
“I have rights just like everyone else and so I decided to lay a complaint against Elections Canada through the Canadian Human Rights Commission,” he said.
“I felt that it was an issue that it should be accessible.”
He filed a human rights complaint that went to the Human Rights Tribunal in Aug. 2014, which led to a hearing in Guelph with Elections Canada that was settled through mediation.
“I think the key word there is dignity,” he said. “I can’t get in just like anyone else.”
Elections Canada Regional Media Advisor Dugauld Maudsley said the agency surveyed 28,000 polling stations across the country in order to make them more accessible.
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The survey assessed polling stations for 35 accessibility criteria and came up with 15 mandatory criteria that each voting location had to meet if it were to be approved for the federal election.
“Now those 15 criteria are in place at about 19,000 polling stations across the country, which is the number that we have for this election,” he said.
“About 96 per cent of those polling stations meet the 15 criteria, and if you look at just wheelchair accessibility about 98 per cent of those polling stations meet that criteria.”
Maudsley said that if voters are faced with a specific accessibility issue affecting them, they can go to the Elections Canada website and enter a postal code to find out whether or not their polling station meets the 15 criteria, Maudsley said.
But if the voting location isn’t accessible, voters still have other options.
And if your voting station is inaccessible, you can transfer to another polling station before Oct. 13, vote at any Elections Canada office or request a mail-in ballot to vote from home.
“I think it’s really good that they’ve done that, but it’s not good enough,” Wozenilek said.
“100 per cent is what is required. If I have the right to go into a polling station in my hometown of Guelph, someone in Winnipeg, someone in St. John’s, anyone across Canada should have that same right.”
Wozenilek is encouraging people with disabilities to speak up if they encounter hurdles at voting locations on Election Day, adding that they can contact him on his website or make an official complaint to get the issue resolved.
“I’m hopeful that other people will use my case as another stepping stone to improve the service that people with disabilities have to have in our country,” he said.
“We need to educate the public, from the young to the old, about how to embrace people with disabilities. And once that gets developed than I think there will be less problems in our society. But we have to start somewhere. I can do one place here, one place there, but it takes everyone to be able to make it work everywhere.”