I have always been interested in politics and I have voted in elections whenever I have been able to. But, as someone with a dual sensory impairment, I have had some frustrations trying to do it. Before elections, obtaining information about candidates needs to be easier. I have been disappointed with the lack of accessible information. I have received only two leaflets from political parties and have only got the chance to speak to one political candidate.
When it comes to disabled people voting, they continue to be at a disadvantage as local authorities continue to use the same inaccessible polling stations every time. Some polling stations have been used for years and years without any adaptations made to them to improve access.
For the last couple of elections I have been casting my votes in a portacabin at the back of the former middle school. I find this odd as the school hall was used successfully for many years. Whilst the portacabin is wheelchair accessible, once inside the room set aside for the election was extremely tight for space with barely room for three or four voters let alone a wheelchair user.
However, accessibility is about more than step free access, it is also about the design of ballot papers and the voting process. Every election the paper always has something different and/or wrong with it. Either the print is too small, or the party logos aren’t clear enough to make them easily identifiable. Some elections where there are multiple votes taking place, different coloured paper gets used and this can also add to the readability problem as well.
This year, I was extremely disappointed as my friends who have some accessibility requirements had decided to physically go and vote, but did not have their accessibility needs met. It felt tight and cramped and the lights were not turned on until the end of the day which makes it difficult for them. The positioning of the polling booth can add to the lack of suitable lighting as well as the height of the table part of the polling booth can also be an issue. But to be fair there was a good attempt to deal with this for wheelchair users this year. This is why I feel that, this year, the system has taken a step backwards, not forwards.
In this year’s general election, true, I could have used a postal ballot, and could have made use of my magnifying glass as having difficulty when reading names of the candidates. I wish that voting will one day be made electronic such as by some form of an app system or another electronic method. I understand that there are major security issues to this but it could help many deafblind people to take part in voting. There are people with other disabilities may find electronic voting a better option as well.
As there are many more elections taking place now, such as the European and London Mayoral ones, as well as the prospect of an in/out referendum. Therefore it has never been more important to ensure that everyone can have their say, whether they are deafblind or have other disabilities.