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People with disabilities report voting issues at polling stations

Reports suggest people with disabilities still being discriminated against at polling stations during today's general and local elections

7 May 2015

Following the launch of their guide which is available here and legal helpline for voters with disabilities law firm Leigh Day have received several reports from people who claims they have been unfairly discriminated against during the voting process.

One of those contacting Leigh Day was Dr Zbignev Kolendowicz, who is visually impaired. He told Leigh Day of his experience at the polling office today which contradicts assertions by the Electoral Commission that returning officers have been told to ensure that voting is accessible to all and that polling station staff have received training on how to help voters with disabilities.

Dr Kolendowicz, told Leigh Day of his concerns:

“On entering the polling station I specifically asked to speak to the head presiding officer. A lady introduced herself as the head official. I asked to speak to her in private. No I was told. I am not allowed to leave here. So I had to tell her what I required.

“We spoke about the large print list of candidate. I put on my glasses and took out my magnifier and tried to read the list. The print was smaller than 24 point and I could not read it.

“The list was too high. Even on tiptoe I could not even see the top two entries. So I had to ask her to tell me what they were. She then showed me the tactile device.

“The numbers were large enough to see, but I could not see anything on the voting form. I could not even see where I had to put my cross. The print was small and faint. The lighting was totally useless. I explained my problem about tell her who I wanted to vote for. I told her I understand about her strict secrecy obligations, but I do not know about others officials present.

“The polling station was full of other people voting as well during our whole conversation. So everyone heard what we were saying. No privacy whatsoever!

“She kindly waited with me at a booth for some time and then said everyone has gone. So I can only assume she was telling the truth and I then said to her which candidate I want to vote for. I could not use the tactile device it was totally useless for me.

“She placed her finger in the centre of the appropriate box (or at least I hope so. I had to trust her to indicate the right box against the candidate I wanted to vote for). I have no proof that she did as I could not see anything on the voting form. I followed her finger down and marked my cross. I asked her if it was correct and I had not spoilt my vote. She said it was. She then led me to the ballot box. I am not satisfied with the Voting form, or the tactile device. They were both inadequate and certainly did not comply with what I would call reasonable legislation.

“I feel I was treated as a second class citizen as I had to wait for others who were not visually impaired. I was not provided with a list of candidates I could read, and even if the print had been large enough I could not access it because it was placed too high on the wall.

“Certainly a visually impaired person in a wheelchair and perhaps even if they were not visually impaired, but elderly with poor sight would not have been able to access it.”

Discrimination experts at Leigh Day claim, that many disabled people will be barred from the democratic process because of a lack of accessibility in polling stations and in the postal vote.

According to Scope’s last Polls Apart survey, here, which reports after every general election, there are over 10 million disabled people in the UK and on average each parliamentary constituency contains 15,000 disabled voters; a fifth of their total electorate.

However, the survey that followed the 2010 general election found that 67% of polling stations had one or more significant access barriers to disabled voters. A 1% improvement from the last election.

Kate Egerton, a lawyer at Leigh Day who specialises in human rights for people with disabilities, explained “At this rate, people with a disability will have to wait until 2345 to exercise their basic democratic rights on an equal basis.

“We are not just talking about physical access for people in wheelchairs, but also access for people who have a visual impairment or a learning disability.” Postal voting has made things easier, but despite legislation and guidance that has created the impetus for significant improvement, Scope’s survey found that the implementation and enforcement of this on the ground falls far short.

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