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Voters with sight loss struggle with system that is 'a parody of the election process'

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

RNIB Scotland director James Adams 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."

Currently, there are around 170,000 people living in Scotland with a significant degree of sight loss, and two million across the UK.

In its manifesto, the charity is also urging Scottish MPs to help ensure that eligibility for welfare benefits is better attuned to the needs of blind and partially sighted people; planning regulations recognise the problems that urban design features such as 'shared spaces' pose for people with disabilities; and 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. Scottish MPs can add a strong voice for change both in Scotland and across the UK," said Mr Adams.

"We have written to all the major political parties 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."