Page last updated at 17:42 GMT, Tuesday, 2 March 2010

A quarter of Welsh polling stations 'inaccessible'

Ballot box
Calls have been made for better access to polling stations

Up to a quarter of Welsh polling stations to be used at the general election are 'inaccessible' to people with disabilities, a charity claims.

Ruth Scott of Scope Cymru made the claims to assembly members at the equality of opportunity committee.

She said there were also concerns about the accessibility of polling stations from outside.

A Welsh Local Government Association spokesperson said improvements had been made but there were still challenges.

Ms Scott said: "We're still seeing caravans on the list, we're still seeing temporary Portakabins, which we've pointed out from previous reviews in general are very inaccessible.

"From the FOI (Freedom of Information request) data that we've received back so far for Wales, 24% of polling stations that are going to be used are considered to be inaccessible.... so I think we've still got some significant cause for concern."

I couldn't vote anywhere. I had to go in the corner, not like everybody else... it's absolutely appalling
Kay Jenkins, Polls Apart

Ms Scott said that although all local authorities in Wales had been contacted for information about their polling stations, only 14 had responded.

Wheelchair user Kay Jenkins, who worked with Scope on its Polls Apart campaign calling for 'accessible democracy', told the committee there had not been a significant improvement in the accessibility of Welsh polling stations over the past three years.

She said: "It's disappointing because it's been going on for years and I don't understand why it's such a problem. Because, you know, they want our votes, we are a large population."

Ms Jenkins told of how she had taken her niece and nephew with her to a polling station to witness her difficulties in exercising her democratic right.

Scope Cymru gave evidence to the assembly committee: From Democracy Live

She said: "It opened their eyes. I couldn't vote anywhere. I had to go in the corner, not like everybody else. So it's absolutely appalling."

Committee members heard a number of issues needed to be addressed to ensure polling stations are accessible, including proximity to public transport and parking facilities.

Scope Cymru's director of policy and campaigns also said polling stations needed to have sufficient lighting and provide large print materials for voters with impaired vision.

She said: "A lot of the access problems that people continue to face... are about the set up of the polling station inside.

"And making those adjustments is not difficult... in providing a low level polling booth, arranging the station in such a way as to mean that disabled people can move around in it easily, making sure that staff are properly trained to... know what the needs of disabled voters are..."

Ms Scott said there is a need for councils to invest in training staff in this regard.

"It can make an experience accessible or it can make it inaccessible if people have good or bad customer service, essentially," she said.

A Welsh Local Government (WLGA) spokesperson said: "Local authorities have made progress in improving polling station accessibility, and this has been independently endorsed by the Electoral Commission.

"Improvements have been achieved through training for polling staff, development of guidance and performance standards and appropriate adjustments made to polling procedures, equipment and venues; there has also been an increase in the take-up of postal voting.

"However, ensuring that the more than 3,000 polling stations across Wales are all fully accessible remains a challenge due to logistics and the geography of Wales, in particular the availability of accessible venues in some electoral divisions and the remoteness of rural electoral divisions generally."

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