Community member Colette discusses her views on accessible voting and her plans to take action after the election.
My name is Colette Walker; I am a lone parent / carer to my 16 year old son Ciaran.
I have a condition called aniridia, which means I was born without an iris but enlarged pupils. This condition causes many issues such as corneal ulcers, glaucoma, photophobia and short sightedness. I have had over 20 corneal transplants, cataract removals, glaucoma operations and I have also been lucky enough to receive iris implants by my surgeon; this is purely cosmetic and does not improve sight. I was registered blind when I was 25.
My son was born at 29 weeks weighing two pounds, unfortunately he has aniridia too and due to a major infection after a glaucoma operation he has now lost both eyes. He is also autistic with speech delay.
Ciaran attends the Royal Blind School in Edinburgh and he loves it. He is involved with scouts, horse riding, and swimming and plays the piano beautifully. He uses a guiding cane and uses his right foot as his echolocation; he has a great mapping system and is very good at remembering and choosing routes he needs to take. He makes me very proud of all of his achievements.
I am an aroma therapist and reiki master, but over the past few years I have become very involved in politics. I am now a member to a political party and have tried to campaign for the general election but I have come across many barriers as a visually impaired activist, which I will be bringing up with my branch after the election.
I have asked for them to add a separate nomination at the AGM for a disability officer which I will be putting my name forward for; one to encourage more disabled members but to also work with other branches to try and reform issues that need to be addressed.
I am a member of inclusion Scotland who, in conjunction with the Scottish government, is offering the 'access to politics fund' which enables disabled people to stand in local and Scottish parliament elections. At the recent local elections in Scotland, 39 disabled individuals took advantage of this fund to stand and 15 were elected, which in my opinion is amazing. They would not have been able to stand if not for this fund, and I have plans to hopefully use it in 2021 to stand as my parties candidate as MSP in Scottish parliament elections.
I am also a member of ERDA, East Renfrewshire Disability Action group, which I have put forward to be nominated as Chair or Vice-chair at our AGM on 19 June 2017. I am the only visually impaired member, so I think it very important that I put our issues forward.
After the election, hopefully my parties candidate will be re-elected as MP and I can speak to her about a campaign I wish to set up to change the way the UK electoral system is being used, especially for people who are blind or partially sighted. In 2017, with the amount of accessible technology there is available, there has to be more than two ways to vote; polling station or postal!
People with sight loss and those who are elderly or housebound should be able to have a private vote like everyone else; after all we are supposed to be living in a world of equality. By putting barriers up, this makes people more disabled and if more thought was given to accessibility for all, people with any disability would feel more confident in their everyday life and possibly forget about their condition for a period of time. This in my view will also make them feel a valued member of their community.
Things that we could consider are text reply voting, online, email, a data protected one-to-one voice call from regional electoral office, or a hand held device that scans and speaks to candidates.
I would want to gather a small forum of blind and partially sighted voters together for a consultation meeting and then put a request for a policy change to Westminster.
This is my plan for the next few months and will contact my RNIB regional campaign officer for support as well as my political party.