Voting with sight loss: Our ultimate guide

Voting in elections and referendums gives you the power to elect your government, both nationally and locally, as well as on some occasions make policy decisions. How accessible is voting if you have sight loss?

Read on to find out: we give an overview of voting generally, give our top tips for voting if you have sight loss, and talk about how Henshaws helps to make the voting process more accessible.

Having your say is so important. Henshaws is pleased to 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.

What do I need to do before I vote?

Before you vote, you need to make sure you are registered to vote, if you aren’t registered already. Registering is a quick process which you can do online.

Once you’ve registered, you do not need to register for every election. You will however need to register again if your name, address or nationality changes, for example if you move house, or get married and change your surname as a result.

How can I cast my vote?

In order to cast your vote, you fill out a ballot paper, putting a cross next to the candidate you want to vote for. Unfortunately, at present, there is no means to vote electronically, or mark your ballot paper using an alternative means such as placing a tactile marker to indicate your vote.

There are different ways to submit your ballot paper:

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 have sight loss?

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 Local Authorities and Returning Officers understand the sorts of provisions that should be made for a visually impaired person to vote more independently.

Is voting truly accessible?

We hope that this blog has given you an overview of how you can vote if you have sight loss, and how we can support you to make your voting processes more accessible if you are a Local Authority.

We understand though that there is still a way to go before the voting process is truly accessible, meaning that people with sight loss can vote in secret and know that their vote will definitely count. For example, even with a Braille candidate list and tactile voting device, you may still require assistance to ensure your mark is in the right place, meaning you haven’t actually voted in secret.

We hope that in time, voting is more accessible so that people with sight loss can vote with as much privacy as anyone else, and have the confidence and reassurance that their vote will count without the need for assistance.

Ultimately, the process of voting involves putting a cross on a specific location on a piece of paper, which is purely visual. At present, while there are accessible ways to read the candidate list and find where you want to put your cross, it is difficult for someone with sight loss to be 100% sure that their mark will count, and it is where they want it to be. Further to that, accessibility at polling stations varies from polling station to polling station: not all local authorities provide candidate lists in alternative formats, and equipment at polling stations can vary.

People with sight loss don’t know everything that’s available to them to make the voting process as accessible as possible, and local authorities don’t always know exactly how to accommodate visually impaired voters: we do hope that this blog helps.

How can I find out more?

Below are links to information about voting generally from gov.uk and the Electoral Commission, as well as RNIB’s information about accessible voting.

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