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'You had to be able-bodied to get in': Markham woman forced to vote outside voting centre

Couple told they couldn't use front doors at Thornhill Secondary School on voting day due to school play
June 20, 2022
Simone Joseph

Joan Jenkyn had a “great big step to climb” when she went to vote at Thornhill Secondary School on voting day.

She and her husband were told they could not enter through the front doors because it was reserved for people going to a play at the school in the John Street and Henderson Avenue area. Instead, they were directed to the back doors.

“There was a great big step to climb up. No railing,” Jenkyn said in a phone interview.

For some people, that might not be a problem. For the 76-year-old, it was an issue because she has multiple Sclerosis and uses a walker. Her husband uses a cane. Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, typically progressive disease that damages nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms can include numbness, impairment of speech and of muscular co-ordination, blurred vision, and severe fatigue.

This entrance had no ramp.

“You had to be able-bodied to get in,” she said.

“I was angry they did it again for the disabled -- made it impossible for voting.”

Jenkyn thought the situation was especially upsetting because of the large number of older adults in the area.

“Anyone in a wheelchair was in more trouble. It’s unacceptable.”

Jenkyn is a former member of Markham’s advisory committee on accessibility with several mentions online of her contributions from 2014 when she provided the city with the accessibility sports and recreation subcommittee report.

Since the couple could not access the building, staff brought voting materials outside for them -- not a satisfactory solution for Jenkyn. Staff brought out a bright folder, not a ballot box. She sat on her walker to vote. “They could see who I voted for.”

All voting locations for the 2022 general election were assessed using Elections Ontario’s Site Accessibility Standards, said Elections Ontario in a statement. These standards include a site accessibility checklist to audit, the availability of accessible parking, the width, slopes, and ramps of exterior pathways and an accessible entrance and internal path of travel to the voting location.

From Ebru Ozdemir Erol, media relations clerk: "While we do complete an accessibility audit of voting locations and ensure the path of travel is fully accessible in advance of election day, on the day of voting, sometimes changes need to be made to reroute electors to another entrance. In some cases, those alternate entrances may not have been considered as part of the accessible path of travel. That is why we also offer curbside voting to make voting possible without requiring an elector to enter a polling station.

In response to the feedback that we receive from groups, including the accessibility community, we continue to review and improve our processes and training for staff so that they are better prepared to offer services that accessible to all Ontarians."