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City to Offer Braille Ballots in Next Municipal Election

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: This article is reprinted with permission from the Star Phoenix, May 13, 2003.

Visually impaired voters will have an easier time casting their ballots in this fall's municipal election, thanks to a recent human rights settlement. In the settlement, the City of Saskatoon agreed to provide election information sheets in Braille to better accommodate people with visual impairments.

"I think it's significant for a couple of reasons. First, it will allow visually impaired voters in Saskatoon the ability to vote independently," said Donna Scott, chief commissioner of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, in an interview.

"It provides for the accommodation of visually impaired voters, while preserving their fundamental right to secrecy when voting," she said.

Robin East, a visually impaired voter, filed a complaint of discrimination based on disability with the commission following the 2000 civic election.

He said Saskatoon is one of the first municipalities in Canada to offer the service to visually impaired voters.

East said he filed the complaint because he wasn't able to vote totally on his own, and he wanted to be independent.

East has wanted the city to accommodate visually impaired voters for years, starting with the 1997 election.

He wasn't satisfied with the voting method then and asked the city to improve it. East said he was promised that in the 2000 election he would be able to vote on his own, since the city was coming up with a new electronic system.

But when the time came to vote again, East found little had changed. That's when he filed the complaint.

East said he's happy his complaint has sparked change. "I'm just excited," he said. "I think the time has come, and I think it's a move in the right direction."

The city has agreed to provide the voter information sheet in No. 1

Braille, which will include the same information that is on ballots for sighted people and facilitate the independent use of the template currently provided to visually impaired voters. In the past, voters needed to be assisted with the template by having someone read the ballot.

City clerk Janice Mann said she is happy to make the changes. She said it could cost a few thousand dollars, but it's worth it.

"That's the way I look at it," she said.

"Because otherwise, people would have needed to take somebody to help them, to stand outside the compartment and to read to them the list - which means they're not able to vote the way that everyone else votes."

"It seemed to me that it was a reasonable cost."

Mann said Saskatoon is not the first city to offer the service. "I have been talking to the City of Ottawa, because I understand that they did it. So I'm going to be finding out how they do it," she said.

The agreement was ratified about two weeks ago, Scott said.

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