Richard Holmes, RNIB’s Public Affairs Manager met with representatives of the Cabinet Office Voting and Accessibility Team to test new ideas to make voting independently and in secret a reality for blind and partially sighted people.
We built on great insight from a previous testing session which informed us how to make vital changes for those who are usually forced to vote with assistance or by postal vote.
This time round, six volunteers with sight loss tested two alternative accessible voting options, trying to mark the ballot paper themselves and without assistance. The mock vote was set within an environment which resembled a polling station.
The first option was a smartphone app which takes a picture of the ballot paper and then reads back the information. This option removes the need for voters who are unable to see, to rely on assistance from either a Presiding Officer or a companion to read the information out. After using the app, the voters were then able to use the Tactile Voting Device (TVD) to independently cast their vote. While the smartphone app worked well for people who are used to a smartphone, we know this won't work for everyone.
Therefore, we also tried a second option, an audio device which reads out the names of candidates and can be re-played as often as the voter wishes. This worked well too and again enabled the person testing to generally place their vote independently and in private.
Feedback from participants was generally very positive, particularly concerning the audio device. One volunteer said:
I feel confident I could use this new audio device to vote on my own.
These tests follow the announcement in May last year, when a Judge ruled the current means by which people with sight loss vote to be unlawful. Despite the Cabinet Office allowing use of smart phones and magnifying devices for the first time in last December’s General Election, voting remained inaccessible for many, particularly those who don’t use this type of technology.
We have continued to build a strong relationship with the Cabinet Office which is the Government department responsible for voting, allowing us to take part in a series of effective meetings and then begin the testing phase.
This latest testing session was very successful and will now be evaluated. Our next steps will be to produce a joint report on the tests with the Cabinet Office and then arrange another Accessibility Working Group meeting later in the year to discuss the findings and work through details and adjustments.