Welcome to the Aidis Trust blog. Here you’ll find our posts on assistive technology that are meant to inform and encourage discussion. Feel free to join in!

How easy is it to vote if you have a disability?

 

polling

Last week, millions of people all over the country were voting in their droves to have their say in the 2015 General Elections. I also went to vote and thought I would see how accessible the process really is, from the leaflets that came through my door right through to the voting process in itself. 

The Build-Up 

The leaflets that came through my door were sometimes accessible and sometimes not. For example, the leaflet about the Conservatives manifesto was very bold and in large enough font for me to read – however, Labour’s letter asking for votes was printed on white-yellow shiny paper and written in very small print which was not accessible at all. The paper manifestos were a bit hit and miss in terms of access really. I found it much easier to access the websites and also used the Facebook pages as a cool and easy way to make voting more appealing – because me and my mates could all discuss who we might vote for and what we made of all of the policies.  

The Big Day! 

My local polling station was at my University which was very helpful in terms of accessibility – until I got to the Students’ Union! Because of the room being turned into a polling station, the entrance had changed from the one I usually use. Luckily I had a couple of friends with me to help me, but if they hadn’t have been there I might not have been able to find it on my own and I know I’d have felt a bit shy in asking someone to take me, and even if I had it would have been the person manning the end of the polling station they were turning people away from, who (when we did ask!) didn’t know where to go anyway.  Not impressed! 

When we got into the polling station (eventually!) there was quite a long queue of people. Being visually impaired, crowds make me very anxious and I avoid them as much as possible. Luckily my friends were with me and we had a chat which passed the time and made me less nervous, but next time I might decide to go a bit earlier in the morning so there weren’t as many people. 

At the polling station, you need to state your name and address in order to be able to vote. Luckily I had my polling card with me which had my name and address on, so I handed it over, they checked me off the list and gave me my voting slips. Simple! 

My friends had to tell me what the colour coded slips were (e.g. general election, councillors for the area, etc.), as I found it difficult to distinguish the colours because they were quite pale. The lack of stark contrast and quite small print made it harder for me to read the slips as well.  If I hadn’t have been able to read them, my friends would have had to read them for me, therefore denying me my right to an anonymous vote, something which is often a problem for many blind and visually impaired people. Luckily I could just about manage as although the print was small it was very bold.  Also my friends were unsure if they were allowed to guide me over to the voting booth – and there didn’t seem to be anyone to ask, so they had to walk part of the way with me until I could see it. Luckily, when I was in the booth, there was a thick black pencil to write with which made it easier for me to see which boxes I had put crosses in. 

When it came to putting the slips into the right ballot boxes, this is where I really needed my friends’ help. The very pale colours made it difficult for me to tell which slip went into which box, and if I hadn’t have had my friends there, there wouldn’t have been anyone official-looking around to ask for help on the way out. 

Getting out of the polling station was relatively easy, although there was someone in there who I noticed was on crutches who really struggled. The staff working at the polling station did help her, but it took them a while and she found it impossible to access the exit that the rest of us did – meaning that she had to wait until she could be let out a different way. It got me thinking about how wheelchair users managed (or didn’t!)  when they went to vote at my University. I think that the access could be improved a lot in terms of the entrances and exits. 

The Verdict 

Overall, I found accessing my vote a lot less stressful because of my two friends (thanks boys!). But if they hadn’t have been there, I think I would have found it a lot trickier to access my vote, let alone my right to an anonymous one! The ability to vote online would improve things a lot. At the moment you can vote by proxy (meaning that a friend or family member can vote for you) but I’ve never liked this idea – I want my own independence as a young person with the right to vote! Accessing it online would mean that those who are completely blind or visually impaired could use screen readers giving them the right to vote privately. By doing this people could also use their iPads or phones to vote within polling stations potentially saving everyone time.  However, another simple change that could be made within the polling stations themselves would be to have Braille and large print copies of voting slips ready to give out to people. The colours need changing too – why not just use bright white paper with a bright coloured sticker on each slip?! Much easier to see. I think that the General Election still has a long way to go in terms of disability access. As for who I voted for? Well, that would be telling! 

Did you vote in the General Elections? Tell us about your experience. 

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