Disability news

GENERAL ELECTION: How polling stations must be accessible to all

a sign which reads disabled access to the left of a polling station sign

Everyone has the right to vote today in the general election and local authorities are legally obliged to ensure their polling stations are accessible for all.

To be honest, they only have bare minimum requirements to abide to - but, by law, these must be adhered to.

If for any reason you struggle to read this article, all the relevant information can be found in the easy read guides published on the My Voice My Vote website.

Every polling station must provide ramps for voters in wheelchairs or can’t manage steps.

Once inside at least one polling booth must be at a wheelchair level.

If the building has an emergency exit which needs to remain closed, there must be a temporary doorbell for people who would struggle to open the door if they need to leave the polling station.

The buildings have to provide adequate lighting so voters with vision loss can fill in their ballot papers.

You may think these regulations are easy to meet, but in the last election there were still some polling stations not suited for disabled people, so what do you do if you are unable to vote?

Tom Marsland, policy manager at disability charity Sense, told Sky News.

"If you can't get into a polling station because of your disability, for example suitable ramps are not provided for a wheelchair user, then the presiding officer should bring the ballot paper out to you so you can still vote.

"Of course, this shouldn't happen and would be a last resort."

You are permitted to take someone with you to help fill in the ballot paper, but your companion must be registered to vote in the election - however if they vote at a different polling station that’s completely fine.

Make sure it’s a person you trust and when you arrive tell a member of staff you have brought someone to assist you to avoid any confusion.

If you arrive by yourself and need help, you are entitled to ask the presiding officer to give you assistance - they should be wearing a name badge.

It’s down to the local council employee in charge - known as the returning officer - to ensure their polling station is accessible and make “reasonable adjustments” so everyone can cast their vote.

Every polling station must provide chairs, magnifiers, a tactile voting device, badges to identify staff so voters know who they can ask for help, pencil grips and accessible parking.

Marsland said: "If you need any additional information about the voting process or would like staff to guide you around the polling station, feel free to ask them to do this - it's your right.”

If you feel your needs are not being met you are advised to speak to the presiding officer and raise concern to your local authority so the problems can be rectified in time for the next election.

Voters with learning disabilities can find the process overwhelming with a number of candidates printed on a single ballot form.

Ali Gunn, chairman of the My Vote My Voice campaign said: "There should be better spaces for people who are bringing a companion with them to be able to talk to that companion in a place that's still dignified.”

[ To find out how political parties aim to support disabled people if they win the general election, read our previous article. ]

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