February 22, 2019 12:56 am

B.C. advocate for vision-loss community urges candidates to provide accessible campaign materials

A B.C. advocate for the vision-loss community is urging politicians to have accessible campaign materials on hand for those with disabilities.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Kenosha News, Bill Siel

A leader for peer support with the CNIB wants politicians in this year’s federal election to make sure they have accessible campaign material on hand for people who may be visually impaired or blind.

Shoko Kitano says that could take the form of large-print text, braille or electronic copies that can be processed by digital readers.

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It’s at the top of mind for her right now. Kitano approached campaign offices on Wednesday for three candidates in the upcoming Burnaby South byelection — NDP candidate Jagmeet Singh, Liberal candidate Richard T. Lee and Conservative candidate Jay Shin — and asked for accessible material.

Only Shin’s office could immediately produce it.

Kitano says that especially with the federal election coming up this year, politicians need to remember to include all communities in their campaigns.

READ MORE: Ontario election: Some voters report issues with accessible voting machines

“I do believe that in order to ensure everyone is included when it comes to societal participation, it’s very important to have any information accessible,” said Kitano.

“Through that effort, I think it will encourage everyone to come out and vote.”

Kitano says she received emails with from the NDP and Liberal offices Thursday with the appropriate information.

Spokespersons from Singh’s and Lee’s offices said they were sorry they hadn’t provided the literature in a timely fashion and pledged to improve accessibility within their campaign offices.

“We were at fault here. When Shoko visited our campaign office, we did discuss issues around accessible voting and asked if she was interested in a ride to the polls either on election day or for advance voting. While we made attempts to secure the proper files, we failed to provide accessible versions of our leaflets in a timely manner,” said a statement from Singh’s campaign manager, Amber Keane.

“We must also do better overall by making sure we are doing everything we can to accommodate all Canadians in being full participants in the election process.”

READ MORE: Toronto election: Voter blasts lack of wheelchair accessibility at Ward 5 debate

Lee’s office responded in a similar fashion.

A statement from campaign manager Sangeeta Lalli said that the Liberal party is “fully committed to supporting the equity, dignity and inclusion of all Canadians who are looking to be involved in the democratic process.”

“Richard Lee is also very committed to the immense hard work that must continue to break down barriers that prevent accessibility for people with a disability,” said the statement.

Sacha Peters from Shin’s office said his office was very happy to have had the material on hand and would never rule out any option to communicate with all residents in Burnaby South.

READ MORE: New guide and service dog rules look at improving accessibility and protection

Kitano says she was happy with the apologies from Singh’s and Lee’s offices — but she wants accessibility to be a given in future elections.

“It’s not about who is [doing] right or wrong, it’s about bringing awareness and making sure that maybe next time, they will keep that in mind while they’re printing their campaign materials to make them fully accessible for everyone, including the vision-loss community.”

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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