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Disabled People Still Struggle To Vote

February 9, 2018

Frustrating. That’s how some women describe accessing the vote, 100 years after the law changed.

Despite having a legal right to vote, some are still unable to cast a ballot at election time – or at least not in secret.

The government has put systems in place to help, but many people say these are often cumbersome and leave people reliant on family or friends.

‘Dark ages’

“There is no autonomy,” Ruksana Khanum, a law graduate who is partially-sighted, says.

Blind and partially-sighted people are provided with a tactile overlay for their ballot paper, but this only indicates numbers down the left-hand side and where the boxes are to cross. No names or parties are rendered in braille.

Ruksana says this leaves her reliant on a family member or friend to read out the ballot paper for her and then, as the overlay has a tendency to slip, to check that she has actually crossed the intended box.

As the youth forum advisor for the Royal Society for Blind Children, she is campaigning for a more accessible ballot paper.

“Frustration is pervasive,” she adds. With technology “we can do things – but with this fundamental right, we are stuck in the dark ages”.

Despite the Electoral Commission’s directions to local authorities, advising them to ensure polling stations do not disadvantage disabled people, a 2010 survey by the disability charity Scope found two-thirds of them had access issues.

From simple problems such as steps and tables being too high – creating barriers for wheelchair users – to difficulties arranging proxy votes for people who cannot use a pen, disabled women and men are finding themselves struggling to access the democratic process.

Scope’s head of policy, James Taylor, said he had heard of disabled people being turned away from polling stations.

“This should not be happening and councils must work to make all necessary changes. If we want everyday equality, then an equal share in our democracy is one of the fundamental places we need to start,” he added.

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