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Blind Voters Want Ballots in Braille

Editor's Note: This article is reprinted with permission from the Kelowna Daily Courier, June 11, 2004.

Kelowna: Some blind people in Kelowna want Elections Canada to offer braille ballots to make it easier for the visually impaired to vote in the June 28 federal election.

They say the current system, involving the use of a template that fits over the ballot, is cumbersome and could lead to visually impaired people choosing the wrong candidate.

"We're just asking that we be given equal access to the voting process," Denise Sanders, President of the Kelowna chapter of the National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality, said Thursday.

"Right now, with the template that's being used in polling stations, blind and visually impaired people don't have the equality of access that other Canadians enjoy," added John Rae, the Toronto-based President of the national federation.

About 130,000 Canadians are blind or visually impaired, according to estimates from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, which is not affiliated with the federation.

No local members of the CNIB have ever expressed concern about their ability to cast ballots, Kelowna spokesman Brian Given said.

But the federation, founded in 1992, takes a somewhat more activist and adversarial role on behalf of the visually impaired.

According to its website, it believes that "public misconceptions about the abilities of persons who are blind, and not blindness itself" is the biggest challenge facing the visually impaired.

The group also says it works to "convince blind persons to take charge of their own lives?.

When a blind person enters a polling station, they're given a template that fits over the ballot. A poll worker tells them the order of the candidates' names on the ballot, and the blind person uses the template to make their mark beside the party representative they support.

"One of the problems with the template is that people could forget the order of the names when they're about to vote," Sanders said. "Or they could just make a mistake and vote for the wrong person. If there were braille ballots, it would be much easier, and it would be harder to make a mistake."

Susan Friend of Elections Canada said efforts to improve the service are made before each election.

"Elections Canada is constantly working to improve accessibility to electors," she said Thursday. she said improvements have been made in the past after meeting with groups to examine methods that will make it easier for voters to cast a ballot.

The NFB:AE wanted the braille ballots available in time for the June 28 election, at least on a trial basis in Kelowna.

"That would be ideal," Rae said. "A lot of progress in these kind of access issues come one step at a time."

Unfortunately, Friend said the changes requested by NFB:AE will not be made in time for the election.

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