Are Polling Stations Inadvertantly Disabling the Disabled Vote?
Disabled people make up a large constituent group in society. There are more than ten million disabled people in the UK with each parliamentary constituency containing around 15,000 disabled voters; almost a fifth of the total electoral role. With the advances in medicine and better care, we will tend to see an increase in the number of disabled children eligible to vote and an increase in older voters with age-related impairments.
Disabled voters have, in the main, the same concerns and political preferences as the rest of the electorate. They do not have a high level of trust in politicians, maybe like most of us, and many express concern that they are not heard by their local and national MPs. Just like everyone else, disabled people’s voting is influenced by difficulties and issues that affect their everyday lives, quality of life and concerns of their family members.
Only recently has there been any particular focus on disabled accessibility of polling stations, mainly due to the introduction of the DDA (Disability Discrimination Act). Understandably, this has led to many disabled voters finding it difficult to cast their vote in private. In many ways, the difficulties that disabled people face are also affecting other groups of voters.
Voters using prams or buggies find it difficult to get into a polling station and move around inside it. Voters who have low levels of literacy due to learning difficulties find it hard to understand the sometimes complex instructions on how to cast a postal ballot or choose their candidates on the ballot paper.
Some disabled voters will have had to risk their right to secrecy by voting outside of the polling station or having to ask others to mark their ballot paper for them, whilst many with visual impairments and learning difficulties have expressed concern that they may have accidentally spoiled their ballots. In the worst cases some have been unable to vote at all.
Personally, I experienced the very problem when voting in the recent General Election. I’m not disabled myself but could very well understand the difficulties that disabled voters would have due to the very cramped conditions of the polling station.