For the last 18 months, I have been the disability and access rep. for my college at university. Over this time I have come in contact with a wide range of awesome people, many of whom face difficulties completing everyday tasks which the majority of people take for granted. It’s opened my eyes to the importance of accessibility and how sometimes little things can make the world of difference.
As a university, York is fantastic at supporting disabled students (from what I’ve seen!). Every college has a disability rep., we have a disabled students’ network who meet weekly, and a university who are willing to take students’ feedback on board and implement it where possible.
As the election has been progressing, I’ve been noticing more and more places where accessibility is a problem. I’ve picked out three below (any more and this will get long!).
Standing as a Candidate
How many disabled candidates have you seen this election? I haven’t seen that many. With 42% of constituency offices not being accessible by wheelchair, is it any wonder there aren’t more people with mobility problems running in this election?!
It’s often more expensive to have a disabled candidate. They often need a level of support, whether that be increased transport costs, help with reading/writing, rest breaks, or something else. The government do have an ‘Access To Office For Disabled People’s Fund’ which prospective candidates can apply for – but is this enough?
After some quick googling of ‘support for election candidates with… [insert disability]’, there are no obvious support structures in place at all. For a disabled person coming from outside of the political circle, thinking of putting themselves up for candidacy, that must be an incredibly daunting prospect.
The manifestos of the main parties are all around 80 pages. That is a lot for anybody to read, but especially someone who has limited energy or concentration, or someone who struggles to read. Most parties have places on their sites which break down the manifestos into bullet points, which is much easier!
That said, these bullet points are still inaccessible to some people. Furthermore, some of those who have a disability, might want to read the full manifesto but be unable to due to the way it’s formatted.
I have only seen two parties who have easy-to-read manifestos. These parties also have braille and audio manifestos. One even has clear and plain text versions, which is fantastic. These things are not difficult to apply in the grand scheme of things, so why have more parties not done it?
How many polling stations are 100% accessible? Not as many as you might think. In the last general election, 67% of polling stations had at least one significant accessibility problem. 30% of these were stations which hadn’t provided ballot papers in large-format. That is not something which is difficult to achieve! It’s not expensive, it doesn’t matter if the building is listed, it shouldn’t be an issue, especially as it’s something which comes under statutory duties.
As a society, we need to stop ignoring disabled people. They are no different from anyone else; just sometimes need an extra level of support. They can often achieve as well as anybody else, in fact there are likely to be a huge number of people you know who have disabilities, but they are ‘hidden’.
Disabled people have as much right as anybody else to vote, as much right as anybody else to stand as a candidate, as much right as anybody else to be a part of our communities, our country and our society.