Voting still not accessible for blind and partially sight people finds RNIB research

Post date: 
Tuesday, 13 October 2020
Category: 
Campaigning
Accessible information
Image of a hand putting a ballot paper into a ballot box. Turned Out 2019 #AccessibleVoting.

Voting in the General Election last year was not accessible for people with sight loss, with only one in 10 blind people able to vote independently and in secret, according to RNIB research. 

Despite a legal victory finding current accessibility provisions unlawful in May 2019, only one in 10 blind voters (13 per cent) and less than half of partially sighted voters (44 per cent) were able to vote independently, and in private, in the 2019 General Election. This research can be found in a new RNIB report Turned Out

  • Two thirds (61 per cent) of blind people and a third (32 per cent) of partially sighted people had to get another person to help them to vote. 
  • More than half (53 per cent) of blind people reported being unable to read any information regarding the election sent to them by local councils, including polling cards. 

One voter told us:

The voting booth was right beside the queue for the check in desk; it wasn’t closed off and I had to verbalise my choice to my partner. When telling her which candidate I wanted, a person, waiting in the queue beside the booth, audibly sighed. I don’t feel I get privacy in my vote.

Now we’re calling on the Government to make urgent changes to the voting system to make it accessible. This includes rolling out new support in polling stations, providing information like poll cards in accessible formats and improving training for polling station staff. 

RNIB is also working with the Cabinet Office to test an audio solution which would enable blind and partially sighted voters who need it to listen to candidate lists independently in the polling station. Read the full report

Reactions highlight the importance of the report’s findings 

Eleanor Southwood, Chair of Trustees at RNIB, said despite numerous steps forward in disability rights “we are still not able to exercise our fundamental human right to have our say on how our country is governed independently and in secret.”  

Craig Westwood, Director of Communications, Policy and Research at the Electoral Commission, added: “The Turned Out report is important in understanding the voting experience of blind and partially sighted voters. 

Everyone, no matter their circumstances, should be able to take part in elections and cast their vote with confidence; but we know that some blind and partially sighted people still face barriers to voting. Ahead of the May 2021 elections, we are working with partners, including RNIB, to ensure that all voters are aware of the resources and support available to allow them vote independently and confidently.

Our next steps 

The current device used to make ballot papers accessible for blind and partially sighted voters – the Tactile Voting Device (TVD) – helps voters find the boxes on the ballot paper independently but does not include the names of the candidates. Mr. Justice Swift found current provisions unlawful in May 2019, saying “enabling a blind voter to mark ballot papers without being able to know which candidate she is voting for is a parody of the electoral process”.  

RNIB has been working with the Cabinet Office to find a way to make voting in a polling station more accessible, with further testing due to happen later this month [October 2020]. User experience experts will assess whether an audio device with headphones could be taken into the ballot box and used, with the TVD, to listen to the candidates’ names and cast a vote in the right place without the need for another person to be present. The Charity and the Cabinet Office are hopeful that if this is proven accessible, it will be rolled out to 40,000 polling stations in time for local elections in 2021.  

Eleanor Southwood continued: “Resolving this situation has taken far too long. We have been working with the Cabinet Office, which looks promising. We’re hopeful that the prospect of independent voting for blind and partially sighted people is now imminent. 

Rolling out the audio device widely is definitely a step in the right direction. There is still much more that needs to be done to make the system fully accessible, such as introducing polling cards in people’s preferred formats and reviewing the postal voting system. We are keen to continue working with the Cabinet Office to make this happen so that future elections are accessible, and the process is truly equal for all.

The report recommends that local and national electoral services: 

  • Continue to work with RNIB’s User Experience team to find a solution to enable blind and partially sighted people to vote independently, and in secret, and roll it out in time for elections in 2021. 
  • Better publicise accessible voting options, and the support available within a polling station, both before polling day and in polling stations themselves so blind and partially sighted people know what support they can expect and request. 
  • Publish the names of candidates and their order on ballot papers online, and in local electoral offices, before elections so blind and partially sighted people can look up who they want to vote for and where they will be placed on the ballot paper. 
  • Ensure Presiding Officers and their staff are fully trained to understand sight loss, different sight conditions, and the various types of support they should be offering. 
  • Update local registers of blind and partially sighted people, collect information on preferred formats, and use them to send items like polling cards in formats that electors can read. 
  • Review and revise the postal voting system to make it accessible for blind and partially sighted people.

How you can help make voting accessible

Firstly, a huge thank you to the 480 blind and partially sighted people who filled in our voting survey after last year’s General Election. By sharing your experiences, we’ve been able to get a deeper understanding of how widespread these challenges are. 

You can help spread awareness of the report and its findings by sharing your experiences of voting using the hashtag #AccessibleVoting on social media. 

Read the full report and please do talk about it with your friends, the more we can increase understanding of how much the system needs to change, the more priority this issue will be given by politicians.