Tactile ballots urged for blind voters

 

OIREACHTAS COMMITTEE:TACTILE BALLOTS should be introduced in elections to give thousands of blind people their constitutional right to a secret ballot, an Oireachtas committee has been told.

The National Council for the Blind of Ireland says the system of using a “trusted friend” to help a blind or visually-impaired person complete the ballot paper is no longer appropriate or acceptable as there are alternatives available.

Thousands of blind and visually-impaired people were being denied their right to a secret ballot and so were excluded from voting, the council’s chief executive Des Kenny told the Oireachtas environment committee yesterday.

He pointed out that tactile ballot templates had been introduced in the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the US. In the UK, for example, all polling stations must provide a tactile voting device and at least one large print display of the ballot paper.

If voters required help, polling office staff could read out the list of candidates. In Spain, visually-impaired people can vote by mobile phone.

Mr Kenny said the introduction of electronic voting in 2004 was a “nightmare” for blind people because the equipment was not designed with their needs in mind.

The number of blind and visually-impaired in the population was set to grow by 300 per cent by 2031 as people lived longer, he pointed out. The council wants the Government to draw up a strategy that will plan for the needs of this growing population.

Mr Kenny called for library services for the blind to be funded in the same way as libraries. The council’s library is the only one in the State for blind people, but only receives funding for staff costs.

The council also wants a re-examination of traffic calming measures that involve space shared by motorists, pedestrians and cyclists. Blind people find these spaces difficult to negotiate due to the absence of pavements and their reliance on eye contact in deciding who has right of way.