Voting Rights for Disabled Individuals

This post was written by student Lindsay Hoegy.

graphic of ballot being placed into voting box

As Canadian citizens, we possess the fundamental right to vote during municipal, provincial and federal elections. (Matsubayashi & Ueda, 2014). Adults with disabilities face countless barriers that can prevent them from full or equal voting opportunities (D’Aubin, 2004). Disabled individuals face “significant cultural, material, and political disadvantages” compared to non-disabled individuals. They are often viewed as “absent citizens” and are most vulnerable to the risk of poverty and exclusion (Prince, 2009). Individuals who are viewed as being incompetent “are placed in positions of subordination” and are protected and cared for rather than given equal rights (Carey, 2014). For years, individuals with disabilities have been denied their human rights of equality.

In 1982, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was established. One fundamental right established was, “every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly [of a province or territory] and to be qualified for membership therein” (Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, 2007). Despite this, there were still groups of people who were disqualified from accessing their right to vote. Adults with mental disabilities were one of the groups of individuals who were not allowed to vote.

Bill C-78 was established in 1992 to make amendments to electoral law and increase accessibility for voting. In 1993, amendments were made to allow all Canadian citizens to vote, including individuals with intellectual disabilities. (Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, 2007). Despite Bill C-78, Canadians with disabilities are still heavily under-represented in electoral processes.

Stereotypical attitudes can create a major barrier for individuals with disabilities. Guardians, parents, caretakers, service providers, or other stakeholders may discourage an individual with an intellectual disability from voting because they may be viewed as being incapable of making politically informed decisions. It is often assumed that adults with intellectual disabilities “are presumed to be legally incompetent” (Agran, MacLean, & Kitchen, 2016). Adults with intellectual disabilities may be unaware that they have a right to vote.

In British Columbia, the I Am Voting Campaign, was created to encourage adults with disabilities to vote and to bring awareness to the accommodations that are available in the voting process (Britten, 2017). It will be beneficial for this campaign to be expanded. To increase voter turnout for individuals with disabilities, built environments, institutional practices, and attitudinal barriers must be addressed and corrected (Prince, 2017).

The upcoming federal election takes place on October 21. If you are not already registered to vote, you can register the day of at your polling station. For information on accessible voting, visit the Elections Canada website.

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