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© 2019 THE INCLUSION BLOG. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Voting for Equality in 2016

Disability Matters Vote Energizes and Unites the Sector

Here’s a riddle for you: how is it possible to close down the provincial legislature and open it up at the same time?

Answer? Bring together Manitobans with disabilities, their friends and families, and the organizations that advocate on their behalf to launch a dynamic public awareness campaign.

On December 3, 2015 – United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities – nearly 1,600 people gathered at the Manitoba legislative building to kick off Disability Matters Vote 2016 (DMV2016). It was a number that shattered organizers’ expectations.

“The assembly was in session and the Speaker had to come out and shush us,” says Margo Powell of Abilities Manitoba. “The legislative building was so packed the media couldn’t get in. It was unbelievable.”

“One of the staffers at the leg said to me: ‘Wow! You closed down the building,’” recalls Patrick Falconer of Barrier-Free Manitoba. “I said, ‘No. Today is the day we opened it up.’”

The successful launch was an important indication of the disabilities sector’s significant convening power, passion, and political savvy. It was a launch that fuelled a remarkable campaign designed to enrich the democratic process leading up to the April 2016 provincial election.

DMV2016, co-organized by Barrier-Free Manitoba and Abilities Manitoba, had three specific objectives: to ensure that all Manitobans with disabilities could participate fully in election activities and that those who were eligible to vote were able to do so; to promote priority attention for disability issues in the election; and to support Manitobans with disabilities in making informed voting decisions.

“For too long, Manitobans with disabilities have been politically marginalized,” says Powell. “We saw this campaign as an opportunity to help people see that they have a role and a voice. I think the campaign gave them a sense of empowerment.”

The campaign featured many key events and programs. One major highlight was a candidates’ debate held at the Norwood Hotel in March. Between a large in-person crowd and eight remote feeds, there were 1,200 participants. Another major success story was the DMV2016 website which featured important background information on issues facing Manitobans with disabilities, information about how to vote, and video statements by the party leaders. A strong Facebook and Twitter presence and a lawn sign initiative also bolstered the campaign’s reach.

As part of its outreach, DMV2016 sent a survey out to all candidates and had a 60 percent response rate. “In the survey, one candidate disclosed some very personal mental health issues that they had never spoken of before,” says Falconer. “Our campaign was able to get above politics and really touch people.”

For Falconer and Powell, one of the key outcomes of the campaign was that it energized the sector and brought people together in new ways. “We learned more about our sector’s diversity, its capacity, and certainly its willingness to step forward,” says Powell. “We spent only $60,000 on DMV2016. You can’t be that efficient unless you have engaged and supportive volunteers. We also discovered some outstanding leaders in the process.”

While DMV2016 was widely seen as a success, there are some lessons to be learned for next time. “We want to nurture cross-disability leadership, spread out the workload, and foster greater unity in our sector,” says Falconer. “I could foresee having eight or 10 coordinating partners for the next provincial election. Also, I think we would start the public piece of our work earlier.”

The most important lesson learned about next time, though, is to make sure there is indeed a next time.

“One mom of an adult with disabilities told us after the election that her son voted for the first time and she now feels like he is a full citizen of Manitoba. Another pleaded with us, with a tear in her eye, ‘Please don’t go away,’” says Powell. “When we hear these reactions, we know that we have to press on.”



By Admin

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© 2019 THE INCLUSION BLOG. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
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