Talk of politics and heated discussions about Brexit have been consuming the lives of everyone living in the UK over the past year (or more), and things appear to be changing from an anxious simmer about the uncertain future of our country to a fiery boil, as we approach a general election on Thursday 12th December. No one seems to know what is going on or what the best for the fate of the UK is, yet thanks to democracy anyone aged 18 or over who is a British, Irish or EU citizen is eligible to vote, but you have to register. This of course includes those living with disabilities.
Sadly people with disabilities are still face problems when it comes to voting, as they aren’t always aware of their voting rights. The Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 made it illegal to discriminate in respect to employment, services, education and transport based on someone’s disability. Many do not have the confidence to go and register to vote, while others face issues when they go to a polling stations. Mobility issues can make accessing polling stations in person difficult while learning disabilities can make it all the more difficult to understand the voting process.
Mencap say that “learning disability issues are regularly discussed by members of the main political parties. In the last six years, learning disability has been mentioned in debates or official letters from MPs over 1,200 times. That is over three times a week.” Over 150 MPs supported Mencap’s last campaign to encourage people with a learning disability to vote. In 2010, almost 1 in 3 people with a learning disability voted, which is progress.
The first step for a disabled voter is to register to vote. Enable Magazine explains that you can register to vote online by yourself or with the help of a trusted carer or loved one. You will be asked where you live, when you were born, your name, address and contact information.
On voting day, our government has a responsibility to ensure all polling stations have a polling booth adapted for wheelchair users and that there is large print versions of ballot papers are available in every polling station, along with aids to enable blind voters to mark their ballot papers without help.
According to the Electoral Commission: “Local authorities now have to take proactive steps to ensure that polling stations don't disadvantage disabled people. All voters have a right to vote independently and in secret. A person who is registered to vote or who has been officially appointed as a proxy voter cannot be refused a ballot paper or the opportunity to vote on the grounds of mental or physical incapacity.
“Polling station staff must ensure that disabled voters are not offered a lower standard of service than other voters and should be able to explain what assistance is available to disabled voters wishing to vote in person at a polling station.”
Disabled voters are also entitled to the right to request assistance to mark the ballot paper., and this can be done through the Presiding Officer. Alternatively, they can bring someone with them to help them vote; providing they themselves are eligible to vote. If an elector is unable to enter the polling station because of physical disability, the Presiding Officer may take the ballot paper to the elector. If you have any problems on election day, you should call your local authority to try to resolve this.
It’s well worth knowing that if you don't want to go to the polling station to vote - because you find it difficult going out and about or have a disability that makes this impossible - voters with a disability can have a permanent proxy vote. Voting by proxy means choosing someone else to vote for you. All you need to do is fill in a new form to choose who will vote for you. This person can visit a polling station or apply for a postal vote in order to vote on your behalf.
There is also the option for you to vote by post. You will be sent a form similar to the registration form when voting by post and you should fill out the postal vote application and send it to your local electoral services team. Before elections, you will receive a ballot paper in the post. It will tell you where and when to post it.
If you’d like more information about accessibility to voting, you can call the Electoral Commission on 0333 103 1928 or the Welsh language line on 0333 103 1929 for further guidance.