Councils urged to ensure disabled people can access polling stations

1 June 2017

One of the UK’s biggest disability charities is urging local councils to ensure polling stations are fully accessible — after research discovered disabled voters faced problems having their say at the ballot box in the 2015 general election.

Neil Heslop, Leonard Cheshire Disability’s chief executive has written to all council chief executives in England to highlight how many disabled voters were left feeling like second-class citizens because of the experiences they had — and to make sure this isn’t repeated on June 8.

Leonard Cheshire found almost a quarter (24%) of disabled people found it difficult to vote in person at polling stations in 2015. This included wheelchair users facing stairs and no disabled parking.

In some cases large print ballot papers weren’t available or voting booths were too narrow, with shelves out of reach.

One voter told us after the 2015 election:

‘There was a step up into the venue. My wheelchair could not be tipped back far enough to get over the step.

‘The staff did offer to come and help lift me over — which although was kind it wouldn't have been helpful or dignified at all, plus I was fearful of being dropped.

‘The booth shelf was too high so I had to complete the ballot papers on my lap for all to see. There was no privacy.’

Guidance from the Electoral Commission says disabled voters should not be offered a lower standard of service than other people in their community.

Councils should make all polling stations in their area accessible to wheelchair users. Clearly marked disabled car parking, staff trained to advise and help disabled voters, as well as adequate lighting and support for visually impaired voters are also necessary.

Large print ballot papers need to be available.

Neil Heslop, chief executive of Leonard Cheshire Disability, said:

‘Disabled people had to cope with some completely unnecessary barriers when they tried to have their say at the last General Election.

‘Local authorities must ensure disabled people are able to exercise their right to vote by ensuring polling stations are fully accessible.

‘We can’t have a repeat of 2015 with disabled people treated like second-class citizens in elections.’

2017 marks 100 years since the birth of the pioneering founder of the charity, Leonard Cheshire.

Media enquiries

For further media enquiries please email Robert Boyland or call 020 3242 0290.

2015 survey data

  • 344 responses to our survey
  • Almost a quarter (24%) of disabled people found it difficult to vote in person at polling stations at the general election on 7 May 2015
  • Our research also found more than one in six (17%) of people found it difficult to vote by post.

Disability Facts

  • 1 in 6 of us will be affected by disability at some point in our lives. For many of us, it will be the hardest thing we ever have to face.
  • 8 out of 10 people with a disability weren’t born with it. The vast majority become disabled through an injury, accident, heart attack, stroke or conditions like MS and motor neurone disease.