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South Surrey polling-station lack of accessibility ‘shatters’ mobility-challenged senior

Elections Canada spokesperson encourages voters to ask for help when needed
(File photo)

A South Surrey senior who was “just shattered” physically after casting her vote says more thought needs to be given to accessibility at the polls for people with mobility issues.

The woman – who cast her vote with some difficulty in advance on Sept. 10 – contacted Peace Arch News Monday (Sept. 20) after seeing the impact the experience had on a friend who has respiratory challenges.

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The woman, who didn’t want to be identified, said her friend, was “almost in tears” after going to vote Monday at Douglas Elementary, located at 17325 2 Ave.

The issue, she said, wasn’t that the site had steps or other challenging features. Rather, the problem for both women was that they were not permitted to exit the same way they had entered.

After casting their ballots in the federal election, they had to walk across the gymasium and out a back door, then “all the way around back to the parking lot again.”

“My friend, who voted this morning, and myself – I have to use a cane – we found it almost impossible,” the woman said.

“I had to stand with my friend three or four times while she got oxygen leaving the voting booth to walk all the way back around to the parking lot.”

Elections Canada spokeswoman Andrea Marantz described the scenario as “really unfortunate” and “the sort of thing that likely could have been dealt with.”

Marantz said accessibility concerns can be addressed in advance by arranging through the returning officer to vote at a different polling station. The option – in South Surrey-White Rock, call 1-866-564-6457 – is available to voters with a genuine need for accommodation, she said.

For those who only realize a difficulty exists for them once they are already at the polling station, she recommended asking to speak to a poll supervisor. Oftentimes, the issue “is simply a matter of people of people being really unaware of the difficulties someone else is in,” she said.

Marantz said flow controls at the polling stations that direct voters to an exit were put in place to comply with COVID-19 protocols, but said “there are ways that you could probably adjust.”

She noted that Elections Canada has a checklist of criteria for polling stations in regards to accessibility, and that voter information cards note how many of those criteria each individual’s polling station meets. The Douglas site likely met most, if not all, of them, she said.

“These are special circumstances, but it doesn’t mean that this was not a rotten thing for these people to go through, and I do believe that if the poll workers had been aware of the issue that they would have tried to help.”

She advised “anyone who encounters a circumstance like that, where they need some help, to please approach the poll workers and ask for that help, because they’re likely just unaware.”
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Tracy Holmes

About the Author: Tracy Holmes

Tracy Holmes has been a reporter with Peace Arch News since 1997.
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