Polling stations criticised for lack of disabled access

Pressure on councils to improve access at polling stations. Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Polling stations around the country are still coming under criticism in spite of calls for improved access following the 2015 General Election.

Although many councils have taken measures such as installing temporary ramps and using premises with better pre-existing access, access to disabled toilets at polling stations, for example, is still restricted in many places.

Some of the issues at polling stations include stations with stairs and no disabled parking. In some stations in the previous election print ballot papers weren’t reportedly available or voting booths were too narrow. Some wheelchair users have also found booths to be too high meaning privacy was limited.

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One charity, Leonard Cheshire Disability, has written to every council in England to ensure a repeat of the 2015 election accessibility issues do not repeat, according to The Visitor.

The charity’s CEO, Neil Heslop, claims many disabled voters felt like second-hand citizens with around 25% of disabled people in the North West of England reportedly finding it difficult to vote at polling stations in 2015.

The Electoral Commission states that disabled voters should not be offered a lower standard of service. 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.

One social care provider, Dimensions, has launched an initiative to help making stations more accessible for people with learning disability and autism.

The providers has created a form of voting passport, an easy-to-read A4 sheet of paper printed with information about the individuals’ voting needs. It is designed to be handed to polling staff so they easily can understand the reasonable adjustments needed to make them feel more comfortable to vote.

It comes after an increasing awareness around the difficult environments polling stations can present to people with autism or learning disabilities. Things such as long queues can prove a source of anxiety for some.

It was also announced this week that Uber will offer free rides for wheelchair users needing to travel to polling stations.

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