The idea that disabled people would rather stay inside is a mythby Lucy Webster / May 22, 2013 / Leave a comment
In the minds of most people the term civil rights conjures images of Emmeline Pankhurst being attacked by police, or Martin Luther King Jr delivering a historic speech to thronged masses on Washington’s National Mall. These images, in black and white, seem to be snapshots of a different age. But one marginalised group in society is still waiting to be granted the unrestricted access to cast their ballot. This group is comprised of people with disabilities—people like me.
In recent years most press coverage of the disabled has focused on benefits and whether we receive too much or too little. But a key debate still needs to be had about where we belong in society—or, more accurately, we need to assert that we do belong in it at all. We belong in schools, in restaurants and shops, in workplaces and, yes, in politics. I believe strongly that if our voices were truly heard in Westminster—if disabled people felt empowered by their ability to vote along with the able-bodied—it is not unreasonable to suppose that we could make important inroads elsewhere.
Let me give you the statistics. At the 2010 general election, more than two-thirds of polling stations had significant barriers to accessibility, according to research carried out by Scope, the UK’s leading disability charity. These barriers included a lack of basic level-access and low-level booths for wheelchair users to vote at. The situation in other countries is similar, if not worse, but Britain has an opportunity to lead the way on this.
You may be wondering how this state of affairs is allowed to continue. The fact is that the law regulating polling is ambiguous on the subject of access; it simply states that authorities should make “reasonable” efforts to accommodate the disabled. As on so many occasions, my definition of “reasonable” is different from that of others—in my experience, regulations often do more to hinder than enable, especially when they allow able-bodied people to decide what is possible or when they treat all disabilities in the same way.
But I find it astonishing that in a country where schools, libraries and even cinemas are expected to provide ramps and extra support to ensure accessibility for the disabled, the same services are not being provided in polling stations—the place where we should be exercising one of our most fundamental rights.
The electoral authorities find shelter in the existence of the…