Helping the sight loss community vote

At Henshaws, we believe that everyone should be given every opportunity to cast their vote independently, in a way that is most accessible to them.
In this blog, we talk about how we support three Greater Manchester councils with transcribing candidate lists into Braille format. We also give a brief history of people’s right to vote, ways that people can vote in the UK, and some top tips for voting if you are visually impaired.
We want to encourage more local authorities to request Braille candidate lists from us, to make the voting experience accessible to even more people. Details on how you can contact us will be given at the end.

In the UK, elections take place, giving people a say on who makes policy decisions. These elections include general elections to vote for MPs who make decisions in the House of Commons, and local elections to vote for local Councillors.

There are also other elections including mayoral elections and elections to vote for police and crime commissioners.

People also vote in referendums, in which the public can make a policy decision by answering a question which has two options to vote from.

Having a say is so important, and at Henshaws we work with three Greater Manchester Local Authorities, Oldham, salford and Trafford,  to make the voting experience at the polling station more accessible. We transcribe the candidate lists for each ward in these Local Authorities into Braille via our Braille transcription service.

At the 2019 General Election, only 44% of people registered sight impaired, and 13% of people registered severely sight impaired, were able to vote independently and in private. This means that many visually impaired people were unable to cast their vote independently, without anybody knowing how they voted.

Who has the right to vote?

Since 1969, all UK citizens aged 18 and over have been able to vote in elections and referendums, with the age lowered to 16 in certain circumstances.

This comes after all women were given the right to vote in 1928, with the minimum age back then being 21.

In order to vote in the UK, you must be a British, Irish, or qualifying commonwealth citizen.

More information about who is eligible to vote in UK elections can be found by clicking here.

How can people vote in the UK?

In the UK, all voting is done by filling out a ballot paper – at present, there is no means to vote electronically.

There are, however, different ways to cast your vote and submit your ballot paper:

  • Polling station – This means physically visiting your local polling station and casting your vote in a polling booth. The polling station you are to vote at will be specified on your polling card. As of May 2023, you will need to provide a form of photo ID in order to vote at the polling station in the majority of elections, including local elections and UK parliament by-elections. You will need photo ID to vote in general elections from October 2023. Polling stations are open on polling day, from 7:00am-10:00pm.
  • Postal vote – Another alternative is to cast your vote via post. This involves filling out a ballot paper and postal voting statement from home, and sending it to your local Electoral Registration Office, or handing it in at your local polling station on polling day if you’re too late to post it. If you want to vote by post, you will need to specifically register for this, and you will be sent your postal voting statement and ballot paper for you to fill out. When completing a postal vote, there is a box where you are to write your signature on both the ballot paper and postal voting statement, however if you are visually impaired and/or you struggle to provide a consistent signature, you can be granted a waver which will exempt you from this. Contact your Local Authority and speak to the electoral services department to arrange this.
  • Voting by proxy – You can apply to vote by proxy, allowing somebody you trust to fill out the ballot paper on your behalf when they visit the polling station. You can only vote by proxy in certain circumstances: having a medical issue or disability is one of them. The person acting as your proxy must be eligible to vote in that particular election, and vote in the polling station that has been allocated to you.

How does Henshaws support to make voting more accessible?

Here at Henshaws, we can transcribe documents into Braille and large print. Whether it be a single document, or a large batch of documents to transcribe, we can help with our efficient and expert professional services.

Working closely with the Greater Manchester Local Authorities of Oldham, Salford and Trafford, we transcribe candidate lists for each ward in these boroughs, allowing people with sight loss greater independence when casting their vote.

Brailling the candidate lists helps Oldham, Salford and Trafford councils go the extra mile: by law, polling stations are only required to have large print candidate lists available, so providing a Braille candidate list as well allows even more people independent access to the candidate list when at the polling station.

We hope that in future, more Local Authorities will ask us to transcribe candidate lists into Braille and demonstrate inclusion of as many people as possible. Not all visually impaired people can access large print, so having the candidate list available in multiple formats is important.

If you are a Greater Manchester Local Authority that does not currently provide access to candidate lists in Braille, and you would like to start doing so, why not contact Henshaws who will very happily do the Braille transcription for you.

Please give us at least two weeks to Braille the candidate list, so we can ensure that we can get the Braille to you on time. Please also provide the candidate list in a Microsoft Word document so that we can convert it into Braille most efficiently.

Get in touch by emailing [email protected] so that we can discuss your request, including cost, and arrangements for getting the Braille transcriptions to you.

We also offer Visual Impairment Awareness Training (VIAT) for people to learn how to best support and accommodate a visually impaired person. Visual Impairment Awareness Training can cover topics including sighted guide, misconceptions about visual impairment and examples of good and bad colour contrast.

How can I vote if I am visually impaired?

As stated in the Elections Act 2022, returning officers (officials who oversee elections), must provide reasonable adjustments so that disabled people can vote. Below we provide some tips for voting more independently if you have sight loss. These tips will also help Returning Officers understand the sorts of provisions that should be made for a visually impaired person to vote more independently.

  • If you want to make sure that your needs will be met, ahead of polling day, you can contact your local authority’s Returning Officer or Electoral Services Department to notify them of any adjustments that would make the voting process more accessible for you. When you arrive at the polling station, explain your needs to a staff member.
  • Request a candidate list in your preferred format. By law, all polling stations must have a large print candidate list available, both on display at the polling station, and as a copy that can be taken into the booth. The candidate list may also be provided in other formats, including Braille, and/or audio (either on a device that you use at the polling booth, or as an audio file that is sent to you). However, it is not a legal requirement to provide the candidate list in these formats, so you may want to contact your local authority to make it known that this is a reasonable adjustment that you need.
  • You can ask a member of polling station staff to guide you around the polling station, read out the instructions on the ballot paper and the names of the parties and candidates in the order that they appear on the ballot paper, and mark your vote if needed.
  • You can use a Tactile Voting Device to help mark your vote in the correct place. Each polling station is legally required to provide a Tactile Voting Device for people with sight loss. The Tactile Voting Device attaches to your ballot paper via a sticky backing, and has numbered lift up flaps which go over each of the corresponding boxes where you mark your vote. You will need to remember the number of the candidate you are voting for (the candidates are listed alphabetically), lift the flap with that same number and then mark your cross (x) in that box.
  • You can also ask if you can use a device such as a video magnifier or mobile phone to help you to vote independently. While the Cabinet Office have told all Returning Officers they can allow this reasonable adjustment, it is the decision of each individual Returning Officer as to whether to allow this. By law, all polling stations must provide hand-held magnifiers.
  • You can be supported at the polling station by a companion. Your companion can be anybody aged 18 or over who is eligible to vote in that election. They must make a written declaration that you asked for support.
  • If you have chosen to vote by post, you can also request assistance at home, including a tactile voting device, a large print candidate list for reference, help with returning your completed ballot paper, and a waver so that you do not need to provide signatures. Contact your Local Authority to discuss any reasonable adjustments that would help you.
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