Insult to Democracy – No Vote
Insult to Democracy
“There’s no vote if you are disable…………”
“To be prevented from voting is an insult to those that died for to keep us a democracy…………………”
“To prevent me from voting makes me a second class citizen just because I am disable…………………”
Are people with disabilities and barriers to accessing their community missing out on the right as British citizens to cast a vote? Well, in some cases, yes. Although the voting age may well change in the near future, we as a population have been allowed to contribute to our democratic process since the 1900s. However, the infirm, the mentally infirm or people with learning disabilities have fought and campaigned hard to be given the same rights as everyone else, including the vote. But this needs to accommodate those that cannot access polling stations for one reason or another. So postal voting was introduced as a legal inclusive way to get citizens voting from the safety of their own homes – sounds good and is good. It means the disenfranchised are given their rights as a UK citizen, especially as someone whose polling station isn’t wheelchair accessible (yes, I know it seems incredible in this day and age, but my polling station is not accessible).
Leaving this point to one side, I started to hear about people in the country I live in saying that they struggled to get the postal vote, that they found the council’s electoral roll department very unhelpful. These were people mainly from the wheelchair population and I thought, to my own shame, that perhaps they were mistaken, perhaps they sent in the electoral roll forms households are sent regularly incorrectly. I even discussed it with my wife as she fills in all such forms due to my dyslexia and she said she had clearly asked for postal voting after the debacle of the last general election.
Let me explain. I had gone to my polling station with a carer to vote, card in hand, as I feel it is one’s duty to vote. People died and gave their lives for us to be allowed to vote; people have been maimed and injured, broken both physically and mentally just so we can vote and live freely. In my own family my great, great , grandfather died from his injuries in WW1, my great uncle died when his plane was shot down (Wellington Bomber), in WW2; another relative lived through the battles in North Africa, Italy and Europe, and all just so we have democracy. So, the very least I can do is to honour their memory by exercising my right to vote. So there I am at my local primary school only to find a big step between me and the entrance.
This is the point where people start panicking and rushing round like a bunch of meerkats, as it dawns on me the step is not the only problem. The door the step guards is only unlocked on one side and I won’t get through the opening that is left. The panic quickly slips into chaos and one official realises that even as I ascend the step, breach the door and enter into the corridor, there are steps down to the room where the booths are. In my mind this has gone from being a polling station to a castle that is near impenetrable to wheelchair users. Just as I think this can’t get any worse, an old frail lady is defeated by the castle’s first layer of defences and the castle step flings the woman to the floor.
From chaos comes a complete and utter explosion of activity from officials and non-officials alike. I literally mean there were some 20 plus people around me and this lady, with knees bleeding, but her embarrassment was the most painful as her dignity was broken. Then one official decides it was my fault, unintentionally, of course, as she must have tripped manoeuvring round my wheelchair. Frustrations hitting nuclear explosion level, I was about to let loose and luckily the old lady tells everyone she tripped up the step. Now I can hear people debate whether to use the schools accident book or did the polling station have its own. No one has offered first aid to this poor woman yet. I see one of the teachers and ask her to get a first aid kit, and so this lady, who is standing by now, is ushered inside the building and I have lost count of the number of people around me. Finally, a polling official comes out and apologises over and over until I stop her and say “I just want to vote”. She tells me they can’t get the door open and even if they could I wouldn’t be able to get to the polling booths. I am about to have a go when this builder looking guy coming out of the station states he has his work mates over at the bakery and they could carry me in. The polling officer looks at me and I calmly say “no”.
I therefore offer the logical solution which is – bring me my voting card, I vote and the official puts it in the box for me. Then I get a response I am not expecting as the polling officer tells me the law about voting states I have to be inside the polling station to vote. “Are you kidding me?” and she answers “it’s the law”. Then I explode. I remember hearing my carer say “I think we should go” as I blast with all guns blazing, this job’s worth. I do recall saying they should be ashamed of choosing somewhere so inaccessible and she had the nerve to tell me that postal voting may suit my needs. For over 30 minutes I am the subject of people looking at me and I am feeling humiliated and ROBBED of the right to vote – a second class citizen that isn’t worthy of voting. Have I slipped into a pre Victorian period where I have no rights? I finally leave with my rights totally stuffed down a drain just because I am a wheelchair user – total discrimination.
So from that point my wife (my angel), made sure we were down for postal voting. The police commissioner elections came round – something I feel strongly about. What happens? We get our voting cards through to attend the polling station. Just bizarre! So I call and get told they will send my application through as I have to apply for postal voting. I explain my situation and this guy just keeps saying we/I have to apply. I tell him again we have done the form already and requested postal voting, all he kept saying was he will send a form out to request it.
No form turns up and a the week of the elections I ring again and have exactly the same conversation but this time I am told that I should have acted sooner as I am not eligible to vote now as there is not enough time. I am struck dumb and just give up. I suddenly realise I am now part of the stories I have been hearing about. Where disabled people have been treated so badly and have effectively being prevented from voting. We really haven’t come so far when it comes to disability rights. It’s so, so shameful, they are literally using physical barriers and their own administration barriers to prevent people from voting. For goodness sake, they are still using the same polling station too! They just don’t give a damn. I was treated like dirt on the phone and they couldn’t have cared less!
I want the right to vote, I demand the right to vote. I am a citizen of a democracy and I have been prevented from voting twice by my local council. I demand the right to vote or is it that the local council basically decides that because I am disabled I am not fit to vote. The council have made me feel less than human, made me feel my vote doesn’t matter – I am dirt under their feet. My local council should be ashamed. They have diminished my rights and now I clearly see them for what they are, as I am not alone. They trample the rights that people have died to give me, been maimed to give me, and as such your entire electoral staff should be fired. I get I am excluded sometimes because I am in a wheelchair, it’s not right but I certainly do not live in a world that is implementing the social model of disability fully, but to take my right to live and participate in a democracy away is beyond contemptible. It is also plain old discriminatory – dismissing me as you did on the phone was degrading to me.
Life as a disable person if fraught with barriers of access, of understanding, of acceptance; we face public transport that cannot be accessed, we face buildings that cannot be accessed, we face employment that refuses to let us access, seeing the disability and not the person. In many ways there is a complicit tolerance of such barriers, it’s just too hard to always have a go, it’s draining and gets in the way of what you were trying to do. However, to take away my vote, not once but twice, is unforgiveable, is forcing me to be less than a citizen, less than a full member of society and I cannot ignore this, I will be taking action to rectify the wrong that was done to remove me from the population who can join in with the so called democracy of this Country, which people gave their all for. £100 million pounds, less that 11% voting in some places for Police Commissioners and you wonder why, well I suggest the Electoral Commission to look at how many disabled people were able to vote – I would put money on that it will be less than 5% or the 11% turn out!
Smiling Cat Ventures and Innovations Group
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Systems of Equality Ltd
Passport to Care Ltd (Social Enterprise – Not For Profit)
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Disability In Business Centre (in development)
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