Barriers to voting — one in four disabled voters found polling stations inaccessible
18 May 2015
by 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.
- 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.’
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.’
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Alice Mitchell-Pye is a policy and campaigns officer at Leonard Cheshire Disability.