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Voters with sight loss still struggling to cast their votes

Blind and partially sighted voters still struggle to cast their ballot papers in secret, says a leading sight loss charity as it launches its manifesto for the December 12th General Election.

RNIB Northern Ireland is urging elected MPs here to add their voice to calls for a review of election procedures. While Northern Ireland only elections are the responsibility of the Assembly, powers over UK-wide elections and referendums remain reserved to Westminster MPs.

RNIB Northern Ireland Director, Dr Jackie Witherow said: "Last May, the High Court of Justice ruled that present provisions for voters with sight loss were 'a parody of the election process' because they fail to allow them to vote independently and in secret.

"The two voting aids currently available - a large-print ballot paper or a tactile voting device, a plastic template that fits over the ballot paper - can still mean people need a sighted person to guide them where to put their cross. Eighty per cent of people surveyed by RNIB who used a tactile voting device said that they voted with another person.

"It's simply not acceptable that people can leave their polling station unsure whether they've correctly voted for the candidate of their choice or feel obliged to ask someone else for help. We want the next Parliament to urgently explore alternatives such as secure digital options."

There are around 53,500 people living in Northern Ireland with a significant degree of sight loss, and two million across the UK.

In its manifesto, the charity is also urging local MPs to: enable blind and partially sighted people to travel independently by promoting accessible street design and supporting accessible transport; ensure jobcentre staff are able to provide appropriate support to help blind and partially sighted people gain, sustain and retain employment; and that greater priority is placed on fighting preventable sight loss.

"Whether these issues relate to reserved or devolved powers, they affect people with sight loss everywhere. Our MPs can add a strong voice for change both in Northern Ireland and across the UK," said Dr Witherow.

"We have written to all the major political parties here to ask if their manifestos are available in accessible versions such as audio, braille or large print. Our manifesto is also inviting those Prospective Parliamentary Candidates elected to become RNIB Champions in Parliament."

For further information, please contact Robert Shilliday at RNIB Northern Ireland on 028 9033 4118 or 07849 079597.