Wheelchair users who wished to exercise their right to cast their vote in person may have been discouraged from doing so by a lack of online information about the access arrangements of polling stations, a new study by the charity Revitalise has found.
In an audit of the UK's 50 most marginal constituencies – where every vote is expected to count – Revitalise found that just three (6%) of the local authority websites administering polling stations in these crucial constituencies had adequate accessibility information for wheelchair voters online.
An astonishing 44 websites (88%) had no accessibility information for disabled people at all.
Revitalise also sent a 'secret shopper' email to the Electoral Services Team of each of the local authorities administering polling stations in the above constituencies, requesting basic information about the wheelchair accessibility of their polling stations. Of the 43 who had responded by close of business on 3 May, only 13 (30%) provided complete information about the accessibility of their polling stations for wheelchairs.
Revitalise studied the two other statutory sources of online information for voters, gov.uk and aboutmyvote.co.uk. Neither was found to have any specific information for disabled voters using wheelchairs. Worse, the charity discovered that many councils not providing online accessibility information routinely refer such enquiries to gov.uk. However, upon linking to the site, enquirers are referred back via a postcode search to the Electoral Services Departments of the council websites from which they came.
Revitalise is suggesting that this is indicative of a lack of joined-up working between the above bodies, which is putting disabled people at a disadvantage.
Revitalise has released a new video, entitled The Perils of Polling, a light-hearted take on the problems a wheelchair voter might encounter at a polling station, which aims to highlight the importance of choice and dignity for disabled voters.
Revitalise CEO Chris Simmonds commented:
“Last week the Electoral Commission suggested that there should be no barriers to disabled people casting their votes on Thursday, but our research begs to differ.
“Our study has found a woeful lack of information for wheelchair users about polling stations on council websites, which is where we all look for voting information.
“Going to a polling station on Election Day is a right the rest of the population takes for granted, but this right seems to be an afterthought when it comes to wheelchair users, since polling stations are still under no legal obligation to be fully wheelchair accessible.
“Of course disabled people have the option to make a postal or proxy vote, but that's not the issue. For Revitalise it's a matter of choice and dignity. What if they want to go to a polling station in their wheelchairs and take part in the democratic process in person, just like the rest of us?
“Wheelchair users will not risk going to a polling station and end up being denied the opportunity to cast their vote, as happened at the last election. As a result, they are being forced to rely on postal and proxy voting by default. As far as Revitalise is concerned, this is a fundamental infringement of their democratic right to vote where and how they choose.
“This is looking to be the closest election in a generation, with just a handful of votes deciding many marginal seats. Can the political parties really afford to neglect the disabled vote?”
Revitalise is a national charity providing respite holidays for disabled people and carers at three accessible centres in Chigwell in Essex, Southampton and Southport, with 24-hour nursing care on-call, personal support and a range of accessible excursions, activities and entertainment.