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

Nearly 150 years after the Ballot Act – which guarantees the right to vote in secret – blind and partially sighted people still face unacceptable barriers to exercising their democratic right to vote.

RNIB’s Turned Out report highlights that, in May 2021, voting in the local elections in England and the national elections in Scotland and Wales was still not accessible, with only one in five blind voters (19 per cent) and less than half of partially sighted voters (46 per cent) saying they were able to vote independently. 

New research in the report, which was published today (July 15), confirms the scale of the problem:

  • Less than a third (30 per cent) of blind voters were satisfied with their experience of voting.
  • 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.
  • A third (31 per cent) of blind voters said the support they received at the polling station was poor.

One voter told us:

"My ability to vote in a democratic society is very important to me. Each time we go to vote, I feel less independent."

A step in the right direction

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 it does not include the names of the candidates. RNIB has been working with the Cabinet Office to test an audio solution to enable blind and partially sighted voters, in polling stations, to listen to candidate lists independently. 

This audio device was successfully trialled in Norfolk this year as ten out of the 11 people (91 per cent) who used the audio device reported they were either very satisfied or quite satisfied with their overall voting experience this year. This compares with 39 per cent of blind and partially sighted voters overall.

One person involved in the trial said: “Much better for me. I listened to the politicians’ names on the player and counted down the numbers [on the Tactile Voting Device].”

Keeping up the pressure  

We now want this audio solution to be rolled out for the next elections, to ensure blind or partially sighted voters can exercise their right, finally, to vote independently and in secret.

Mike Wordingham, Policy Officer, RNIB, explained: 

Resolving this situation has taken far too long.  We’re hopeful that the prospect of independent voting for blind and partially sighted people is now imminent. But we need to keep the pressure on the Government to commit to doing this in time for the next elections in 2022.

However, 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 the UK Government and local electoral services: 

  1. Roll out the audio player and TVD trialled in Norfolk to enable blind and partially sighted people to vote more independently, and in secret, by elections in 2022.
  2. Publicise better accessible voting options, and the support available within a polling station before polling day and within polling stations on the day so blind and partially sighted people know what support they can expect and request.
  3. Publish the names of candidates, and their order on ballot papers online and in local electoral offices (and in accessible formats) before elections, so blind and partially sighted people can find who they want to vote for and where they will be placed on the ballot paper.
  4. Work with RNIB to ensure Presiding Officers and their staff are fully trained on sight loss, different sight conditions, and the support they should offer.
  5. Review and revise the postal voting system making it accessible for blind and partially sighted people.
  6. Local authorities should update local registers of blind and partially sighted people, collect information on preferred formats, using them to send items like poll cards in formats voters can read.
  7. Imposing a photographic voter ID requirement risks further disenfranchising tens of thousands of blind and partially sighted people. If voter ID plans are to go ahead the Government must make sure poll cards are available in people’s preferred formats, and accept these, as well as photographic ID, as proof of eligibility to vote at the polling station.

How you can help make voting accessible

Firstly, a huge thank you to the 626 blind and partially sighted people who filled in our voting survey. By telling us about your experiences, we’ve been able to get a deeper understanding of how widespread these challenges are. 

You can now help spread awareness of the report’s 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 sooner the Cabinet Office may be persuaded to implement the solutions that now exist.