Democracy Dialogues: Empowerment through Accessibility: Toward Inclusive Democratic Engagement.

AuthorReynolds, Wendy

Canada's first Deaf parliamentarian recently spoke about his experience seeking elected office and how Ontario's Legislative Assembly worked with him to accommodate his needs and, as a result, became one of the most accessible legislatures in the world.

Ryerson University's Democracy Dialogues series (1) recently invited, Gary Malkowski, the first deaf parliamentarian in Canada, (2) to speak about his experiences in office.

Elected to the Ontario Legislature in 1990, Malkowski confessed that his first experience of voting was to vote for himself in the 1990 provincial election. For most candidates, this might be an unusual career path--many young politicians gain experience and exposure to democratic processes by participation in school government, developing connections to other politically engaged students, and developing an appreciation for and understanding of democratic tools and processes.

Malkowski, on the other hand, had little exposure to the democratic process in his youth. His secondary schooling did not include a civics class and he did not participate in school government. His first experience came when he moved to Washington DC to attend Gallaudet University, the world's only university for Deaf students. Gallaudet University is a world-class institution with a rich history of transformation and impact. For more than 150 years, Gallaudet has been the political, social, and economic engine of the signing community. (3) There, he developed an appreciation for activism, and a willingness to engage.

On his return to Ontario, he became part of the Deaf Ontario Now movement, which demanded American Sign Language (ASL) and langue des signes du Quebecoise (LSQ) interpretation in schools for deaf children. Inspired by his experiences with Deaf Ontario Now, Malkowski ran for the NDP in the riding of York East. Reflecting on his time as a candidate and parliamentarian, Malkowski recounted a number of changes which had to be made to parliamentary operations:

* The Elections Finance Committee ruled that extraordinary expenses incurred by the candidate for sign-language interpretation would not count under the candidate's expense ceiling.

* The first bill passed in the Ontario Legislature in that parliament was to allow sign-language interpreters on the floor of the Chamber.

* Malkowski was given a small monitor for his desk so that he could see the closed captioning on the screen.

* Flashing lights were installed to supplement the bells...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT