Some members of Calgary's disability community are celebrating a recent Elections Calgary decision to reinstate advance polling at post-secondary institutions because it could give them a chance to make an event of voting day again.
Over the past 10 years, organizers with Disability Action Hall have realized they can substantially increase voter turnout among their community members this way. Co-ordinator Colleen Huston says they pick a location that's easy to access by transit and accessible taxi, then invite everyone to meet up.
It helps because elections staff at those advance polls are usually more familiar with the accommodation people with certain disabilities need. Disability Action Hall ensures there are people to help if someone needs the ballot read out to them, for example.
Then they all go out to eat.
"Having pizza and making a day of it is a great way to celebrate the community and celebrate our voice," said Huston, who spoke on the Calgary Eyeopener this week.
Elections Calgary made the announcement Friday after being lobbied by post-secondary student leaders. Four campuses will now get two days of advance polling each. Students will be able to vote there regardless of which ward they live in.
Creating a social event
"(It helps) immensely because the only other way for someone with a disability or reduced mobility to participate at a polling station is with a mail-in ballot. Often that isn't the best way," Huston said. "It's nice to go to the campuses because there's a great place to sit down, enjoy a meal, use the bathroom.
"It's just kind of a nice, big, wide-open space … for people to vote safely and also to keep the students well protected."
Mailing in a ballot is an option, but the social aspect of voting together encourages people to get involved.
"It's the joy of being able to talk to people, being out in the air, but at the same time being safe," said Angie Brown, who has congenital rubella syndrome. She wishes there was an event like this in her home town of High River.
Without a group effort, it can be hard to figure out all the nuances of where and how to vote.
Voter with disability turned away
Lloyd Thornhill, who has a learning disability, said he was turned away after he showed up at the wrong polling station for a previous election.
"I don't think that was fair," he said. "Everyone with a different disability has the right to vote."
Elections Calgary officials told CBC News they are still finalizing details to add yet more voting stations and longer hours for the October election. An update is expected at the end of September.
Huston said Bow Valley College is the most accessible location, but city hall can also work if COVID restrictions mean school campuses are restricted to students and faculty only.
Disability Action Hall is hosting two virtual candidate forums focused on accessibility issues to help community members prepare. The next one is on Thursday.
In addition, the group is organizing a webinar to review the federal election platforms together in early September and is investigating if a voting event is possible for that election, too.