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Sight loss charities urge action on polling booths

Two charities have published urgent recommendations to local authorities to make polling stations more accessible for blind and partially sighted voters.

The recommendations from London Vision and Thomas Pocklington Trust come after 74% of blind and partially sighted people said they felt either partially or totally unable to vote in secret and without assistance.

More than half found polling stations inaccessible, with some resorting to postal votes, or not voting at all.

The charities have developed four recommendations to make voting more accessible for blind and partially sighted people.

These include making large print ballot papers and tactile voting devices (TVDs) available in every polling station and ensuring that staff know how to use them; helping constituents to cast their vote and ensuring voters know they can ask polling officers for help; and adding extra lighting to at least one polling booth to help constituents with partial sight see the ballot paper better.

Cathy Low, CEO of London Vision said:

Barring widespread voting reform incorporating the integration of telephone, electronic and online voting, blind and partially sighted people are likely to continue to feel excluded from voting. While they cannot guarantee secret and accessible voting for the 200,000 blind and partially sighted people in the capital, our four recommendations aim to help polling staff streamline the voting process for people with visual impairments.

Walking into a polling station to cast your vote can be daunting when you have a visual impairment. You may be unsure of the layout, or whether the Tactile Voting Device (TVD) or large print ballot papers are available. Even if these are available, sometimes blind and partially sighted people are prevented from voting because staff are unsure of the rules around assisting people with a visual impairment.

The research conducted by TPT in partnership with RNIB reflected the experiences of blind and partially sighted people who voted in the 2015 General Election, 2016’s London Mayoral election and Referendum and the 2017 General Election.

Charles Colquhoun CEO at Thomas Pocklington Trust, said:

London Vision has put these recommendations together as a helpful guide for Returning Officers and polling station staff in the capital but they are just as relevant to the whole of the country.

They remind polling staff of the need to have large print ballots and TVDs available, and the rules on assisting blind and partially sighted people to vote. Additionally, making a small change – like brighter lighting in one polling booth – can go a long way to help partially sighted people cast their votes independently and secretly.

Image: London Vision