ELECTION 2015: Lawyers pledge free help for disabled voters on election day


Disabled voters who face polling station barriers at tomorrow’s general election will be able to secure free legal advice that could help them cast their vote.

Disabled people who have been prevented from casting their vote on election day can contact discrimination experts Unity Law through the hashtag #PolledOut (accompanied by the location of the polling station).

Unity Law argues that preventing a disabled person from voting could breach the Equality Act, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the Human Rights Act.

And it hopes to be able to fix some of the problems on the day of the election, ensuring that disabled people who contact them will be able to cast their vote.

They have also pledged to take legal action on behalf of disabled people who contact them and are still unable to vote.

Unity Law plans to share its data from the day after the election with the Electoral Commission, and the disability charity Scope, which has campaigned in this area.

At the 2010 election, Scope found that two-thirds of polling stations had one or more significant access barriers to disabled voters.

Unity Law is representing the disabled activist Adam Lotun, who was prevented from voting at last year’s European elections because of an inaccessible polling station.

A year on, he has still received no confirmation from his local council that he will be able to vote in tomorrow’s general election.

Doug Paulley, a disabled activist who is backing Unity Law’s campaign and was himself once forced to vote in the street because of an inaccessible polling station, said: “Most people agree that the right to vote, and to do so in private, is a fundamental tenet of our democracy. It is a fundamental right, long fought for over the centuries.

“To have this denied means that those disabled people who want to vote but are unable or are demeaned in having to vote in the street, or to waive their privacy, are being denied something which nearly every other adult in the UK takes for granted.”

Chris Fry, managing partner of Unity Law, said: “It is a scandal that 800 years on from the signing of the Magna Carta, the rights of the individual remain out of reach.”

Meanwhile, new research has shown that none of the seven main political parties in England, Wales and Scotland have a website that achieves international standards on accessibility.

The disability charity AbilityNet said the results of its new investigation were “bleak” for disabled people, and showed the sites were “difficult and frustrating” to use, while none of them complied with minimum legal standards on accessibility.

The charity found that the three best websites belonged to Labour, the SNP and the Liberal Democrats, followed by the Greens.

The three least accessible sites belonged to the Conservatives, UKIP, and Plaid Cymru.

Each site was tested by disabled people with a variety of impairments, while they were also checked by AbilityNet’s accessibility experts.

Robin Christopherson, head of digital inclusion at AbilityNet, said: “What our tests do show is that disabled people are being denied access to information that could help them make an informed choice.

“In an election where every vote counts, the political parties should take note and put web accessibility at the top of their agendas.”

Another report, by the respite holiday charity Revitalise, has found that, in the UK’s 50 most marginal seats, only three (six per cent) of the websites belonging to councils administering polling stations had adequate online access information on voting for wheelchair-users.

The study found that 44 of the 50 websites (88 per cent) had no accessibility information for disabled people at all.

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