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Ontario Election Activities

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: The NFB: AE was active during the 1999 Ontario election Campaign. We contacted all three Provincial Parties and requested copies of their respective platforms in Braille. The Ontario Liberal party and the Ontario New Democratic Party provided their campaign platforms in Braille to blind and vision impaired Ontarians. Members attended a number of all candidates meetings, and questioned candidates on their party's positions concerning the Ontarians With Disabilities Act, and other disability related platform planks. When the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party failed to provide its platform in Braille, NFB: AE president, Robert Fenton, filed a complaint under the Ontario Human Rights Code, in an attempt to compel the Ontario Conservative Party to produce its campaign literature in Braille. He issued the following press release on behalf of the NFB: AE which gained some media attention for the NFB: AE. His complaint is still under investigation.

"Blind activist files human rights complaint against the Ontario Conservative Party and Premier Mike Harris personally for failing to provide election campaign literature in Braille."

Monday, May 17, 1999: Today, Toronto blind lawyer and activist Robert Fenton, President of The National Federation of the Blind: Advocates For Equality, will file an urgent human rights complaint against Premier Mike Harris and the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party for failing to commit to provide its election campaign literature in Braille. He will contend that Harris and his party are discriminating against thousands of blind and vision impaired Ontario voters, by throwing up a barrier which will prevent them from being able to fully participate in this election campaign.

"On behalf of the National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality, I wrote all three Ontario parties before this election was called, urging that they make sure that their campaign literature would be available in alternative formats such as Braille, so that all blind and vision impaired voters could review all of the parties' positions on various issues and make an informed choice on who to vote for on June 3, 1999. I wrote again to Premier Harris as soon as his Blueprint for Ontario was released to the public to again ask the Conservative Party to produce it in alternative formats such as Braille.

"The NDP and the Liberals have already committed to provide their literature in Braille, large print and on computer diskettes. Mike Harris has not even answered any of my three letters requesting accessible campaign literature," said Robert Fenton, NFB: AE President. "We have joined in the call for a barrier-free election campaign for all Ontarians with disabilities. Mike Harris and the Conservative Party are the only targets of this human rights complaint because the Conservatives are the only party and Mr. Harris is the only leader who has shown blind and vision impaired Ontarians that we don't even deserve an opportunity to make an informed choice on who to vote for in the upcoming election. We must act now because the election is only a couple of weeks away."

The National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality has also brought to the attention of the party leaders the need for their web sites to be designed in a way which blind and vision impaired web-surfers can access with the great technology that opens computers up to those who are blind and vision impaired. Again, the NDP and Liberal sites are better and the Tory web site is the worst. In addition, the Blueprint for Ontario is stored in PDF format which is generally not accessible to blind and vision impaired people. Mr. Harris has not responded to correspondence on this point either.

"It's just more proof that Ontario needs a strong Ontarians with Disabilities Act to tear down the barriers we face," said Mr. Fenton. This kind of law would have removed these types of barriers to the electoral process. "If Mike Harris had not broken his 1995 written election promise to people with disabilities to enact that law, I would not have to file a human rights complaint today. In this election, Premier Harris won't talk about why he broke that promise, won't make commitments to blind and vision impaired people about removing barriers in future, and won't even let us read his literature." In contrast, the Liberals and NDP have promised that if elected, they will pass a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act to achieve a barrier-free Ontario for the 1.5 million Ontarians with disabilities, many of whom are blind or have vision impairments.

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