Montreal man using wheelchair struggles to access polling station

Aaron Ansuini says the Montreal building was not accessible without help. (Submitted by Aaron Ansuini - image credit)
Aaron Ansuini says the Montreal building was not accessible without help. (Submitted by Aaron Ansuini - image credit)

Montreal resident Aaron Ansuini, who uses a wheelchair to get around, wanted to vote in Quebec's provincial election by mail this year.

Checking online was no help, he said, so he contacted the election authority and was told to register in person if he wanted to vote by mail.

He instead opted to go to a polling station Monday in Montreal's Saint-Michel neighbourhood to cast his vote ahead of the Oct. 3 election.

He was directed to 7501 François-Perrault Street, a municipal building.

"I rolled up to the entrance and there was no way to get up onto the sidewalk," said Ansuini, and even then there was a staircase to climb to get in the front door.

He and his partner were directed to the side of the building, but there were still interior stairs to climb with the only alternative being a cargo lift.

He said he needed help to get in and out of the lift as it had a steep ramp that led to a wall. It was impossible to use the lift on his own.

Inside the building, a door was propped open, blocking the elevator's buttons from his reach, he said.

Hindrances take away independence

"I was a bit hindered in doing this independently and it doesn't grant me much agency as a voter and that's never a great feeling," Ansuini said.

"The whole experience reminds me we're often an afterthought."

To top it off, Ansuini added, the person handing him his ballot asked his partner over his shoulder if he is able to vote on his own rather than just asking him.

"I was just talking to her. I gave her my ID. It's a bit odd," he said. "Some sensitivity training could maybe go a long way."

Aaron Ansuini/Twitter
Aaron Ansuini/Twitter

Élections Québec makes a concerted effort to ensure all voting sites are accessible, said spokesperson Julie St-Arnaud Drolet.

On election day, some polling stations may not be accessible to people with reduced mobility because of the demand for space, she said, but places selected for advance polling must meet stricter accessibility requirements. This adds to the challenge of finding convenient locations that are available, Drolet said.

But the building Ansuini visited Monday meets Élections Québec's accessibility requirements as it has a ramp and elevator, she said.

"We understand that he had an unpleasant experience and we don't want to discredit his feelings," she said. 'We are really sorry the experience was unpleasant."

Advocacy group says more needed

However, the head of an advocacy group for people with mobility limitations said this is a problem every election.

"But it was kind of a surprise that he was literally told to go to that place and there were so many stairs," said Steven Laperrière, director general of the Regroupement des activistes pour l'inclusion au Québec (RAPLIQ).

"One step is too many."

For a location to be deemed accessible, there can't be obstacles in the way of people who rely on wheelchairs or have reduced mobility, he said.

It's not just a matter of having a ramp or lift, he said. Accessibility is a broad term that could mean providing chairs for waiting seniors or accommodations for those who are deaf or blind, he said.

"All people should be able to vote without obstacles," Laperrière said. "Voting is a right."

Ansuini agreed, adding, "I could tell somebody my house is accessible and they have to somersault in through the window."

Cargo lifts might work as long as people can use them independently without assistance, he said, and don't require a button to be continuously pressed or for it to be operated from the outside, he said.

"Sometimes those cargo lifts are made for cargo. They're not made for a wheelchair," he said. "There's all types of challenges with those types of cargo lifts."

Not meeting these basic accessibility requirements is not only illegal, but also dangerous, said Laperrière.