“physically incapacitated” or “mentally defective” don’t make me choose!

Our eugenics history is not a thing of the past.

In our provinical election many  Albertans in wheelchairs can not get into their polling stations to cast their vote.

The Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada calls upon Elections Alberta, elected officals and Canadians to make changes to policy and the Elections Act to stop excluding and creating barriers for persons with disabilities.

Albertans with disabilities, particularly those in wheelchairs, are unable to cast their ballots at several polling stations in Alberta on Election Day. The Elections Alberta website provides voter information about where to vote, but when some Albertans sought information about their polling stations they discovered that they could not get access to voting stations. Voters in wheelchairs throughout our province are unable to participate at the polls due to the lack of accessible polling stations. Elections Alberta Operations Director, Drew Westwater explains that while advanced polling stations were wheelchair accessible, the polling stations selected for Election Day, April 23, are not.

Alberta voters can find out about their polling stations using the Elections Alberta website, as one Edmonton woman did: “I happened to check on Voter link to find out where I can vote. The website happily told me the poll station address, and furthermore informed me that it is not wheelchair accessible. That was it. No link. No instructions. No clue that I could still possibly cast a ballot in this election. After four phone calls and almost two weeks, I finally was able to find out about, and negotiate a way to vote, by mail-in ballot”

The Elections Act 88.1 (96) Voter Assistance section, informs voters that they can vote using a mail in ballot – A wheelchair athlete in Edmonton requested a mail in ballot and discovered “I received this ballot today, and in order to vote, I actually have to self-identify, by check mark, as “physically incapacitated”…. have we really come that far from “mentally defective” (the term used to differentiate, institutionalize and sterilize thousands of Albertans from 1929 – 1972 under the Alberta Sexual Sterilization Act)?”

Alberta’s eugenic history influences our attitudes towards individuals with disabilities and differences, as our electoral process demonstrates. People with disabilities and vulnerable Albertans are being treated in exclusionary ways. The wheelchair athlete who is trying to participate explains: “… in order for my vote to count. I need to plan 2 weeks ahead. Navigate an unclear and difficult to manoeuvre electoral system. And self-identify with words that lack any dignity… words and ideas that I have spent my adult life fighting against. And this extra electoral burden is put upon the time and bodies of folks who are already forced to spend more energy and time to navigate other inaccessible and disabling structures.”

The effects of our eugenics past are present in our contemporary attitudes towards individuals with disabilities and the language that is required. The extra electoral burden placed upon individuals who are already forced to spend more time and energy to navigate so many other inaccessible and disabling structures such as housing, public spaces, transportation issues and more, is unacceptable.

As Mr Westwater said, the advanced polling stations throughout Alberta are wheelchair accessible but he could not explain why ALL polling stations are not accessible. Who else is excluded from our electoral process? How can our provincial government continue to exclude Albertans in our electoral process? Why do elected officials insist upon using language that treats its citizens without respect and dignity?

Instead of placing the burden upon those who already face multiple barriers as persons with disabilities, we need to place the responsibility upon elected officials to ensure all public spaces are accessible for all members of the public and create inclusive policies that guarantee electoral participation for all Albertans.

To find out if your polling station is accessible go to: http://wtv.elections.ab.ca/wtWhereDoIVote.cfm?MID=WH1

Write or call the candidates in your riding and after the election call again!  The fight for inclusive communities can not be left to those who already face so many barriers – all of us must work towards change!

Remember to Vote on April 23, 2012 – if you can get into your polling station

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2 thoughts on ““physically incapacitated” or “mentally defective” don’t make me choose!

  1. One of the Problems is conflicting information provided by Elections Alberta. The cards mailed out to voters ell them to go http://www.elections.ab.ca “to find out… About voting for persons with special needs.” If they go there, there is information published under “how easy is it to vote?” It assures them, “All of our voting places are accessible for those with physical disabilities.” It has been assuring them that at least since February 12, 2008 http://www.elections.ab.ca/Public%20Website/714.htm ……BUT if they check the same website for their individual voting locations, it tells them that some are “not wheelchair accessible” Of course, one might be able to vote at an Advance Polling Site, but these sites close 2 days before the election, so many people will not know that they need to use these sites until it is too late. Add to this, the fact that for most voters using the advance polling stations will require more travel than their regular site and that for those using DATS, they may have to schedule the trip a week in advance and it may take hours. THis effectively takes the vote away from people who need to use wheelchairs who live in some voting districts.

  2. This is also a problem in New York City. The majority of polling places are not accessible and the few accessible places to vote have antiquated and inaccessible voting machines.

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