Having your say in May

Today is National Voter Registration Day.  Are you registered to vote?

There is something very satisfying about voting in an election. We are having our say on who should represent us in Parliament, who we most believe will listen to our concerns, stand up for the things that matter to us and work to make the world a better place. In closely contested elections, our vote could change who becomes our MP and who forms the government. It could change the course of events locally, nationally and even internationally.

But there is something more to it, something more personal, a warm feeling that we are actively participating and that our vote is equal to everyone else’s.

I recently received an email from a deafblind person who no longer has enough sight to read the ballot paper. He was angry, believing that this would prevent him from voting in the general election on 7 May. He felt as though he was no longer a valued member of society. Thankfully, I was able to give him good news: he can still vote by using a tactile voting device or asking someone he trusts, or staff at the polling station, to assist.

Before the local elections in 2006, Sense ran an event for deafblind people to find out about the elections, ways to vote and lobbying local councils. With support from a member of Sense staff, one young deafblind participant, Daniel, went on to vote for the first time and couldn’t stop talking about it for weeks.

For those of us with convenient access to news and information, it’s easy to almost take our democracy for granted. For Daniel, learning about how democracy works, that he has political representatives and that he can vote for them was a revelation. The sense of pride he felt at having the same say as everyone else on something so important, when in everyday life even basic decisions such as what to eat were often made for him, was immense.

Another deafblind person, Liz, lives in her own home with support from Sense. Before the last general election, Sense staff asked Liz if she wanted to vote. They explained that you vote to elect a local MP, who can make changes in your local community and has a say in who becomes Prime Minister. Liz had heard about the Prime Minister and said that she would like to vote. Sense transcribed information about the candidates into braille so that Liz could make her choice.

When it came to voting, Liz’s support worker got in touch with the local authority and told them that Liz wanted to vote. They told them that she is blind, so would need some assistance. The local authority made sure that there was a tactile voting template for Liz to use at the polling station, so that she could mark her ballot paper independently. Liz managed to vote successfully and wants to vote again this year.

For Liz, voting is just one step. She’d also like her MP to visit her home to see how she makes tea and uses her mobile phone. She’d like to tell her MP that she enjoys going to her keyboard class, to church and to the bank. Before the last election Liz met Tessa Munt (Liberal Democrat) and recently she met James Heappey (the Conservative candidate) and she was able to tell them about the things which matter most to her.

It’s great to see deafblind people, such as Daniel and Liz, actively engaging with the election. We would like every deafblind person to know that they can vote and to get involved.

But, to have your say on election day, you do need to be registered. Simply go to the register to vote page on the government website.

If you would like more information on how voting can be made accessible to deafblind people, please get in touch by emailing campaigns.info@sense.org.uk.

And, there’s still time to tell us what you want from your MP.

Happy voting!

 

Liz Ball

Author: Liz Ball

Campaigns Involvement Officer for Sense Public Policy

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