The elections watchdog has agreed to review its guidance, after criticism over its failure to advise organisers of election hustings that they should do everything they can to make them accessible for disabled people.
Disabled campaigners spoke out after it emerged that there were no plans to live-stream two of the hustings events being organised ahead of the by-election to replace Boris Johnson in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency.
Disability Politics UK called on the Electoral Commission this week to issue new guidance that would encourage organisers of hustings to make them accessible.
It pointed to the two events being held on the Brunel University London campus in Uxbridge.
Despite the university running online events for students during the pandemic, neither of the hustings was planned to be live-streamed until complaints from Disability Politics and others forced organisers to hurriedly arrange an online option on the day of the first event.
The first hustings was held on Tuesday this week and was hosted by Hillingdon Chamber of Commerce.
The second hustings event, on 13 July, will be hosted by the Hillingdon Herald, the university’s own student-run newspaper.
Deborah King, co-founder of Disability Politics UK, was critical of the commission’s lack of guidance.
She said: “One of the few positive outcomes of Covid was the increase in availability of online access to events.
“We would expect all people organising hustings to try and ensure they are held at venues which can facilitate online access, so that disabled people can access them online.
“Disabled people’s voices are overlooked by political parties of all hues. We want better access to politics.”
An Electoral Commission spokesperson said its hustings guidance was “primarily focused on compliance with electoral law and sets out how spending on hustings may be regulated” and was “non-exhaustive, voluntary guidance, rather than statutory guidance”.
But she added: “However, it is important that elections are accessible for all those involved and that includes events such as hustings.
“We plan to review our guidance in the coming months to ensure it reflects the needs of voters, parties and campaigners, and will consider any guidance we can include on accessibility.”
A Brunel University London spokesperson told Disability News Service late in the afternoon on the day of the first hustings that both events would be live-streamed.
He refused to respond when asked to confirm that live-streaming had only been arranged that day, following complaints about the accessibility of the events.
He also refused to comment on whether Electoral Commission guidance on accessibility would be useful.
Hillingdon Chamber of Commerce had failed to comment by noon today (Thursday).
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