Disabled people in Wales need better access to the democratic process
6 September 2010
Disabled people often feel excluded from the democratic process in Wales because their specific requirements are not catered for.
That was the response from those taking part in an Assembly Commission-organised forum held to mark the International Day of the Disabled.
“Collaboration between a steering group of disabled people and disability support organisations gave us all an opportunity to make recommendations for accessing democracy more easily and more equally,” said Presiding Officer, Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM.
“This was timely as next year will see three major opportunities to vote - the referendum on the National Assembly’s law-making powers, the National Assembly elections and also a vote on how MPs are elected to Westminster.
“One of our key strategic aims is to increase participation in the political process among the people of Wales – including under-represented groups such as disabled people.”
To this end, the National Assembly for Wales ran a highly successful mentoring scheme this year in partnership with the WLGA, called Step-up Cymru, where those taking part shadowed Assembly Members.
The National Assembly also has a very active staff disability forum and an external Disabled Users’ Forum that help to inform the Assembly’s services and facilities. This has aided the Assembly in providing inclusive and accessible services enabling all the people of the principality to access the democratic seat of Wales.
However, the Scaling the Wall report makes the following suggestions for action:
-The UK Electoral Commission should investigate the use of technology and alternative formats to make the electoral registration and voting processes more accessible for disabled people. Templates for people who are visually impaired could be utilised more with Braille overlay. Text phones and text messages could be utilised in order to register voters. Electronic voting machines could be used in polling stations that have audio visual messages and information.
-The Welsh Local Government Association and Returning Officers should ensure that polling stations across Wales have improved physical access and accessible signage, especially in rural areas; polling stations across Wales will be accessible to people who have sensory or physical impairments. Staff should receive disability equality training and information on communication support to enable them to provide an accessible customer service.
-Political parties, the Electoral Commission and the WLGA should ensure that they make information available in other formats including Braille, type-talk, email, Easyread, face-to-face communication and British Sign Language. Websites should be accessible to all users and include access for deaf users and people who have visual impairments.
-Political parties might wish to consider providing training to their members on disability equality, accessible communications skills, and providing information in accessible formats. Politicians should use clear, plain Welsh/English and avoid jargon.
Some of those attending the forum also raised questions about difficulty they had encountered in terms of reporting disability hate crimes, highlighting problems surrounding:
-feeling frightened to speak up when they had experienced harassment because of their disabilities and were afraid of potential repercussions by perpetrators;
-a perceived lack of training of police officers to deal with reports of hate crime and a lack of understanding of people’s disabilities;
-the time taken by police to respond to incidents of hate crime.
The full report is available here. It is also available in accessible formats including audio, large print and Braille format on request.Contact the Equality and Access Team: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
. Tel: 02920 898650