Recommendations for the government

The government should look at different ways that people with disabilities can vote so that they have greater flexibility and choice.

We want to work with people and organisations to help make sure everyone’s experience of voting is as easy as possible.

Poll card

Poll cards

Before an election people who can vote are sent a poll card. This tells people where their polling station is. It also tells people if they have decided to vote by post.

People told us what they thought about the poll card:

  • the print was too small
  • it used unfamiliar words and jargon
  • it had an unhelpful map of the polling station
  • it was difficult to read as it had black words on white paper

People's experience of voting

People's experience of voting

"It was complicated and used unfamiliar words and was black on white which is horrible to try to read with dyslexia and Mears-Irlen Syndrome."

"Not only did the map not cover the area where I live in order to relate it to the polling station, but the main road, the A230, which any voters from this area would need to use to reach the polling station barely clipped one corner and was unlabelled. I ended up having to use Google Earth to locate the polling station."

how the poll card could be better

People told us how the poll card could be better:

  • larger print
  • an easy read version
  • pictures to show information
  • bullet points • audible versions
  • links to information online, such as a video to show someone where to vote and what they need to do to vote

Voting by post

Voting by post

Some people need to vote by post because they can't get to the polling station. One person told us they vote by post: “because it is the most accessible option to me. I am registered blind and unsure if the location or setup of the polling station would be easy for me to navigate”.

Our bigger survey shows us that people with disabilities were more likely to say they voted by post than people without disabilities - 35% compared to 19%. But for some people, voting by post creates further barriers.

Most people said it was easy to fill in and send back their postal vote, and that they could vote on their own and in secret. But this was not the same for everyone.

Some people who voted by post told us they did not understand the instructions on their postal vote. Other people said there were too many bits of paper and it was not easy to know which bits of the postal vote went in which envelope.

The law says that information must be sent to people who vote by post about how they can get:

translations into other languages of any instructions sent with the ballot paper

  • a translation into Braille of the instructions
  • a graphical representation of the instructions
  • the instructions in any other form (including audible)

But some people don't know that alternatives are available. One person told us that they did not know they could ask for their postal vote instructions in easy read or large print.

People's experience of voting by post

People's experience of voting by post

“Postal vote instructions are confusing and difficult to follow and postal vote papers are not available in alternative formats for Mears-Irlen Syndrome."

How postal voting could be easier

People told us how it could be made easier to vote by post:

  • audible versions of the instructions telling people how to fill in their postal vote and send it back
  • digital information online showing how to apply for a postal and proxy vote, and how to fill in the postal vote
  • clearer information so that people know they can ask for an alternative versions of the postal voting instructions
  • easy read version of the postal voting instructions
  • pictures and symbols
  • clearer instructions on what to do and less jargon
  • using different colours to make it easier to read

Voting at a polling station

Voting at a polling station

Most people said that they are happy with voting at the polling station, but it can be made better.

We have heard of times when someone with a disability has not been able to vote. They have gone to the polling station and been sent away or they have not been able to get in. Other people said that voting at their polling station made them feel uncomfortable.

Getting into the polling station

Polling stations are more accessible than they used to be, but there are still some polling stations that are not accessible. Some people can’t get in.

Our bigger survey found that 5% of people with a disability said it was hard for them to get into the polling station. No one without a disability said it was difficult.

Making polling stations more accessible

People's experience of voting in a polling station

"I suffer from M.E. and walk with crutches. The polling station had steps at the doorway to get in and then more steps leading to the room being used for the election. There was no sign of any disabled access."

“I'm lucky in that my local polling station is accessible, and if it weren't I can independently complete a postal vote. But many of my friends can't access their local stations. Whilst postal voting is an important and valuable 9 option (especially for those with mental health issues) the feeling of casting a vote into an actual ballot box should be open and accessible to everyone.”

Inside the polling station

Inside the polling station

Accessibility is not just about getting into the polling station and it is not only about people with a ‘visible’ disability. People with different disabilities have problems once they are inside. Some people find it hard to move around inside the polling station. Some people find it hard to fill in their ballot paper.

People's experience inside the polling station

People's experience inside the polling station

"There is nothing to help autistic people know that places are accessible for us too. For example warnings about flickering lighting, huge machinery noise in a space. Only people who get written guidance are wheelchair users, Blind, Deaf or Learning Disabled. 2 million autistic people get nothing written for us. And most staff don’t know how to help autism, only LD {learning disability}. It’s a different thing.”

What people found difficult when voting inside a polling station

Here are some things people told us about why it was difficult for them to vote when they were inside their polling station:

  • it was too noisy and too many people were inside which made it stressful and made them feel anxious
  • the polling booth was not wide enough for their wheelchair
  • staff did not know how to use the tactile voting device or did not offer it to people who might need it
  • people did not know they could ask for a tactile voting device
  • staff or other voters could see how people voted – they could not vote in secret
  • people could not vote by themselves
  • staff were unhelpful and unfriendly
  • the pencil was too hard to hold
  • the large print ballot paper was not useful
  • the instructions were not clear about how to vote

Support that could be offered to people with a disability inside a polling station

Additional support that could improve voting inside a polling station

"More space to move around. Narrow space meant people bumped into me a lot. Also staff knowing how to remove the tactile device after I fill out the ballot so I could vote privately.”

Other ways to improve voting inside polling stations for people with a disability

Our bigger survey found that people with a disability who told us it was hard to fill in their ballot paper said it was because there was no help, no tactile voting device or no large print format.

There are changes that people said can be made both outside and inside the polling station to make things easier:

  • making sure the building is accessible
  • good lighting • clear instructions on how to vote
  • staff who know what people with a range of disabilities need in order to vote
  • bigger pencils that are easier to hold

Flexibility and choice in when and how to vote

Other ways to vote

We think that the government should look at different ways that people with disabilities can vote so they have greater flexibility and choice. This would mean people would be able to choose which way of voting suited their needs.

People told us it would be easier to vote online. But the people running elections would need to be sure it was safe before this could happen. This means the government should look at other ways to vote such as:

  • choosing which polling station to vote in
  • voting on days other than on a Thursday, for example the weekend
  • voting in mobile polling stations in hospitals, nursing homes or care homes and in remote areas

We would be happy to work with the government and disability organisations to see which methods are best.

Any new ways of voting must make sure people are able to vote in secret and for who they want to.

People's experience of candidate and political party content

“1 million voters with a learning disability risk being overlooked if political parties fail to produce accessible Manifestos” – Mencap, 5 May 2017

How do candidates and parties tell people about themselves

Last updated: 9 June 2021
Next review: 19 May 2020