Senedd Election: Is the electoral process accessible enough for those with disabilities?

  • Watch the ITV Cymru Wales video report by Richard Morgan and camera operator Rob Milburn

Voting in an election is a right and responsibility we all share, but some disabled people claim the electoral process in Wales leaves them feeling "removed from democracy."

Criticisms include poor accessibility, a lack of privacy at polling stations, and a reliance on paper ballots that some say is "archaic."

Dan Thomas, from Cardiff is visually impaired and he said the current arrangements are simply not good enough.

He will be voting by post in this election because of concerns about coronavirus, but he told ITV News his previous electoral experiences have been less than satisfactory. 

In the past, he has even had to ask his local taxi driver to fill in the ballot paper for him.

He said, "She came to help me vote in 2015. Or my mother would come and help me. During the EU Referendum, I simply had to rely on the lady in the polling station."

The voting system requires the voters to know what order the candidates are in

Dan said it has left him frustrated that "in 2021 we still rely on this archaic paper-based voting system."

ITV Cymru Wales last met Dan two years ago, and saw the provisions made for voters with visual impairments. 

The tactile voting device which requires a voter to know which order the candidates are in, was declared unlawful by a judge in 2019.

Dan added, "Of all the things I can do online, I can do banking, I can do grocery-shopping, I can apply for jobs, but I can't go and cast a private ballot by myself.

"Why can't we have some sort of digital voting experience rather than having to do it all on paper using pens that some of us can't see?" 

Rhys Bowler from Pontypridd has also experienced issues around accessibility and privacy, and has not gone to a polling station in eight years because of this.

Rhys hasn't been to a polling station for eight years

He has a condition called Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and needs someone to fill in his ballot for him.

He said, "A lot of disabled people have got a love and an interest in politics. And I would like to feel more included maybe.

"It's just the fact that we need to improve access to some of these places. For example they could come and tick the box for me or whatever so I can do it in privacy in a room."

Accessibility is also an issue with one wheelchair user telling ITV News that visiting her polling station based in an old building was "a nightmare."

The Senedd elections will be held on May 6th

Rhys added, "I do think if the government really thought about how many disabled people there are in the community, how many more votes could they have? That's a lot of people voting there."

He will also be voting by post in the upcoming election on May 6th.

The Electoral Commission is calling on the Welsh and UK governments, together with political parties and local councils, to make voting more accessible for all. 

The closing date to register to vote is April 19.

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