One of the UK’s biggest disability charities is urging local councils to ensure polling stations are fully accessible – after research discovered disabled voters faced problems having their say at the ballot box in the 2015 General Election.
Neil Heslop, Leonard Cheshire Disability’s CEO, has written to all council chief executives in England to highlight how many disabled voters were left feeling like second-class citizens because of the experiences they had – and to make sure this isn’t repeated on Thursday.
There are around 1.6million disabled people of all ages in the north west of England.
Leonard Cheshire found that almost a quarter (24 per cent) of disabled people found it difficult to vote in person at polling stations in 2015.
This included wheelchair users facing stairs and no disabled parking. In some cases large print ballot papers weren’t available or voting booths were too narrow, with shelves out of reach.
One voter told us after the 2015 election: “There was a step up into the venue. My wheelchair could not be tipped back far enough to get over the step.
“The staff did offer to come and help lift me over — which although was kind it wouldn’t have been helpful or dignified at all, plus I was fearful of being dropped.
“The booth shelf was too high so I had to complete the ballot papers on my lap for all to see. There was no privacy.”
Guidance from the Electoral Commission says that disabled voters should not be offered a lower standard of service than other people in their community.
Councils should make all polling stations in their area accessible to wheelchair users. Clearly marked disabled car parking, staff trained to advise and help disabled voters, as well as adequate lighting and support for visually impaired voters are also necessary. Large print ballot papers need to be available.
Mr Heslop said: “Disabled people had to cope with some completely unnecessary barriers when they tried to have their say at the last General Election.
“Local authorities must ensure that disabled people are able to exercise their right to vote by ensuring polling stations are fully accessible. We can’t have a repeat of 2015 with disabled people treated like second-class citizens in elections.”
Susan Parsonage, acting returning officer for the constituencies of Lancaster & Fleetwood and Morecambe & Lunesdale, said: “In complying with the legislative requirements of the Electoral Commission relating to accessibility of polling stations, local authorities must seek to ensure as far as is reasonably possible, that every designated polling place for which they are responsible for is accessible to electors who are disabled.
“In the Lancaster district, before being selected as a polling station, each venue is thoroughly checked and assessed for all eventualities.
“In setting up polling stations on the day of poll itself, presiding officers appointed to manage polling stations are responsible for ensuring that the layout of the room takes into consideration the needs of voters who may have a range of disabilities.
“Venues are continually assessed to ensure that they remain suitable for use as polling stations and that the needs of all our electors can be met.”