People with disabilities faced ‘enormous barriers’ to voting in general election

Equality campaigner receives ‘avalanche’ of responses after tweeting about experience

 Vivian Rath, from Kilmuckridge, Co Wexford, outside St Joseph’s NS which is his polling station during election. Photograph: Patrick Browne

Vivian Rath, from Kilmuckridge, Co Wexford, outside St Joseph’s NS which is his polling station during election. Photograph: Patrick Browne

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People with disabilities faced “enormous barriers” to voting in last month’s general election, an equality campaigner has said.

Vivian Rath, member of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Authority’s disability advisory forum, had an “avalanche” of responses after tweeting about his experience voting in Kilmuckridge, Co Wexford.

Mr Rath, who uses a mobility scooter, tweeted: “No accessible (lower) polling booth available. Despite a request to the Returning Officer. @wexfordcoco So, I voted in the side hall. #GE2020 Staff were lovely but I want #RightsNotFavours.”

He says he had not been able to vote secretly last year in the local and European elections as he could not reach the polling booth. A wheel-chair accessible pooling booth should be available in every station.

Though he was facilitated with a table it was positioned in full view of other voters coming into the station.

‘No reply’

“So my right to a secret ballot was not vindicated,” he says. He raised this, he says, with the county’s returning officer Marie Garahy, but has had no reply.

Last month again there was no accessible booth. He was provided with a table again, this time in a side hallway.

Among the responses to his tweet were: “The string on the pencil was too short for me to put the ballot paper on my lap. I was supported to have easier access door opened and ballot paper brought to me. Room for improvement,” said one.

“Voted in my car Viv,” tweeted another.

“#GE2020 is a joke for #Deaf people and people with disabilities! Some confusion among the #Deaf community on who to vote for, due to lack of access to #IrishSignLanguage,” tweeted one.

A visually impaired voter tweeted: “I attempted with my companion to affix a Braille template to the ballot paper. Because the template came rolled up in its box it was crumpled. It was also 30cm in length. I opted to have my companion complete the ballot paper with me. Not a successful means of giving me secrecy.”

Mr Rath and Maria Ní Fhlatharta of Disabled Women Ireland are now collating preliminary results from an online survey of people’s voting experiences.

Of those who responded one in every two disabled people faced barriers to voting in the general election, says Mr Rath.

Difficulties

“Those barriers included lack of easy-to-read, independent or candidates’ information leading up to the election, inaccessible polling booths, not being able to get into the polling station and difficulties with the tactile voting template for the visually impaired.

“All adult citizens have a right to vote, but people with disabilities are routinely being denied that or face enormous barriers. This is widespread.”

He called for an electoral commission, which is due to be established, to examine the barriers faced by people with disabilities.

A spokesman for the Department of Housing and Local Government said a group established in 2018 was “working on improving accessibility to polling stations for voters with physical disabilities, particularly wheelchair users, with the goal of all polling stations being fully accessible as soon as possible”.

The Wexford returning officer didn’t return messages from The Irish Times.