Barriers to voting — one in four disabled voters found polling stations inaccessible

18 May 2015

Alice Mitchell-Pyeby Alice Mitchell-Pye

Almost a quarter (24%) of disabled people found it difficult to vote in person at polling stations at the general election on 7 May, our research has found.

Problems included:

  • no level access or disabled parking spaces available at some polling stations
  • inaccessible voting booths and ballot boxes
  • polling station staff lacking training to help

We're calling for local councils and the Electoral Commission to review accessibility of polling stations and postal voting forms.

Some disabled people did not have access to large print ballot papers, and many of those who experienced difficulty told us that polling station staff were not helpful in resolving the issues they experienced.

These findings come despite Electoral Commission guidance to councils in 2011 that polling stations should have these accessibility features, and disabled voters must not be offered a lower standard of service than other voters.

Among other issues highlighted in the research were voters who were not able to access a hearing loop.

From 344 responses to our survey, some disabled voters shared their experiences of voting at the election:

‘There was a step up into the venue. My wheelchair could not be tipped back far enough to get over the step. The staff did offer to come and help lift me over — which although was kind it wouldn't have been helpful or dignified at all, plus I was fearful of being dropped.’

‘The booth shelf was too high so I had to complete the ballot papers on my lap for all to see. There was no privacy.’

Our research also found that more than one in six (17%) of people found it difficult to vote by post.

‘The print was too small for me to read and the instructions confusing. I couldn't have managed without help which is disappointing.’ — postal voter

In advance of the 2016 elections, we’re calling for a review into the accessibility of polling stations and the postal form to make it easier for disabled people to cast their vote.

‘The government estimates that nearly 11 million disabled people are eligible to vote, and we need to ensure every single person has the chance to make their voice heard by making all polling stations and postal votes accessible.

‘We urge councils to seek the views of disabled people and fully include them in the process of improving voting accessibility in their areas — for example, hearing loops in polling stations are not mandatory at the moment, but they should be.’ — Andy Cole, Leonard Cheshire Disability Campaigns Director

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Alice Mitchell-Pye is a policy and campaigns officer at Leonard Cheshire Disability.


The way forward may be for disabled people to have postal votes. Even able bodied people now find this is easier if they are busy or away, so more help could be put into advertising postal voting.

Hi Marjorie. We found that more than one in six (17%) disabled people found it difficult to vote by post. (See about halfway down the article above for more details.)

No, we should be able to vote in exactly the same way that everyone else does, anything less *is* discrimination. I'm one of the lucky ones whose polling station is accessible, albeit with a bit of effort, but everyone who has the right to vote, has the right to *access* to vote.

Our group "South Copeland Disability Group" did a survey requested by the council, several years ago on polling stations within our area South Copeland, a report was forwarded to Copeland Borough Council, and yet nothing was done, at one station it was in a farm house, with a really high step, when questioned, they replied, We don't have any disabled voters in our area..>

My Wife and I have a postal vote when it comes to any elections simply because elections are held at the local community centre just up the road to were we live in Harrogate North Yorkshire and as we are both wheelchair users my manual wheel chair is just small enough to get through the door way into the community centre but my wife's electric wheelchair being much bigger it is a struggle to enter the community centre which makes me think how many disab led are exclueded from enjoying events held in thier local community centre has it may be the only time that its possible for them to enjoy the company of other people rather than be suck in thier homes has anyone done a survey on community centres accessability for wheelchair users

Nothing changes or improves. Last year our POlling station was moved froma very accessible location to one which was totally impossible. I drove past it 5 times after failing to see any signs ( which were so high up in the house they were invisible). The house used then had an incredibly steep, long drive which was completely impossible for my mobility scooter and I would defy anyone to push a wheelchair up it, let alone bring one down safely. I ended up crawling up it on hands and knees in the rain. The council's only reply was a standard letter saying "Use postal voting". I can't get to our post office without help. I've even offered them the use of my large level driveway to park a caravan but hey couldn't care less.

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