Disability Equality Scotland is a national Disabled People’s Organisation (DPO). We are a membership organisation and engage with our 700 disabled members on a variety of issues, to ensure that we are championing on their behalf. Each week we send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue.
For the week commencing 27 February 2018, we asked our members to comment on the question: “Is voting in elections accessible?” A total of 30 members answered the poll, with just over half (57%) stating that voting is not accessible in Scotland.
The comments that we received from our members give further insight into the barriers that disabled people face when voting in elections.
Accessibility of Polling Stations
Access to polling stations can be challenging for disabled people with reduced mobility due to physical barriers. Members had experienced issues with a lack of parking provision, steps and uneven ground, inaccessible routes to voting booths and limited access to accessible toilets.
“I once arrived at a polling station in my power chair. I got up the ramp okay but my power chair was too wide to get through the corridor into the hall the voting was taking place in.”
“Signs outside the polling station are left in the way and cover the entire pavement.”
Many of our members who experienced physical barriers, opted to submit a postal vote.
“I am a postal voter as the nearest polling station has steps to get into the building. You have to walk on gravel which isn’t save for people who have wheelchairs or have mobility problems.”
“I now have a postal vote as the polling stations are often not very accessible by way of lack of parking nearby for disabled car parking; kerbs; and space in corridors are tight for wheelchairs”
Some of our members raised concerns about the lack of communication support on polling day. These concerns related to the limited information available in BSL and other alternative formats such as Easy Read. There were also concerns about the lack of staff awareness of disabilities and subsequent communication support needs.
“Is the information sent out on the polling card in an accessible format and easily understood? Do the postal and proxy voting papers take account of the person using the forms – are they available in an easy read format?”
Our members suggested the following improvements to make voting more accessible.
There was a suggestion that staff should be trained in disability awareness, and be able to assist disabled voters to help make the process more inclusive.
“For example, staff trained in disability equality and awareness. Although there is a requirement for the aid for visually impaired voters, how many of the polling staff are fully aware of how this aid works and could help voters?”
Our members indicated that a move to electronic voting, using an online method would allow more people to participate, using their own software, such as screen-readers and alternative text size.
“I think election voting should be accessible online. At present, my mum has to read my ballot paper and I have problem signing it myself.”
“Online voting would increase accessibility and make it easier.”
There are simpler changes that could be introduced to the physical ballot paper to ensure that it can be used by those with visual impairments. For example, our members suggested that the top left hand corner of the paper be removed, so it could be orientated correctly. The voting boxes could be delimited by embossed lines or notches in the paper and details of which box corresponds to which candidate could be identified in the voters’ preferred format.
Disability Equality Scotland would like to see reasonable adjustments made to the process of voting to enable disabled people to participate, without having to rely on friends, family or volunteers to assist them. This should, as a minimum, include polling stations which are fully accessible, training for staff and volunteers to assist disabled voters, and amendments to the voting card for use by visually impaired voters. Further consideration to introducing an online method of voting would also be beneficial to some disabled voters, but we would urge that all polling stations are accessible to those who wish to use them.