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Thursday, 7 June, 2001, 05:30 GMT 06:30 UK
Polling stations face disabled scrutiny
Capability Scotland
The charity is surveying polling stations
Scotland's polling stations are coming under scrutiny from groups representing disabled people.

Leading up to the 7 June poll, the charity Capability Scotland has campaigned to make it easier for disabled people to cast their votes.

The organisation will now survey polling stations throughout the country and with 780,000 disabled people entitled to vote, the charity will gauge how easy or difficult it is for them.

Access to some polling booths has represented a problem for people with disabilities in the past.

However, the Scotland Office said that changes had been made to improve access and reduce areas of difficulty.

Would anyone be motivated to vote if they knew that they would have to be carried into their local polling station?

Michelle Hegarty, Capability Scotland

Poor access to polling stations has, in the past, been compounded by especially high or narrow booths, which have made it impossible to cast a vote in private.

Capability Scotland works in partnership with Scope - its sister organisation in England and Wales - and the Disability Rates Commission (DRC) funds its work.

It has sent out more than 400 questionnaires in Scotland to assess the accessibility to polling stations on 7 June.

The organisation will collate the results before submitting a report with recommendations. Two such reports have been submitted before; one after the 1997 general election and one following the 1997 referendum.

Person in wheelchair
There is concern over access to stations
CS director of communications, Michelle Hegarty, said officials must wake up to the reality of the problems people with disabilities have faced with when casting their vote.

She said: "Would anyone be motivated to vote if they knew that they would have to be carried into their local polling station in front of friends and family, or have to go in a separate entrance through the rubbish bins or have the indignity of having to vote in the street where everyone can see them?

"Yet this is the reality for thousands of Scotland's voters who have a disability. Research by Capability Scotland has shown that disabled people are strongly motivated to vote, they know the issues and are determined to have their say in spite of these difficulties."

This is something that CS is anxious to remedy before the next Scottish parliamentary elections in 2003.

Through campaigns such as '1 in 4 Poll', it hopes that disabled issues are placed under the spotlight, and in its own words prove that disabled people "live in the same world as everyone else".

Polling station
Officials say changes have been made
Alongside six of Scotland's largest disability organisations, CS launched a general election disability manifesto, which highlighted key recommendations across a range of reserved powers including benefits, employment and equality legislation.

A spokeswoman for the Scotland Office said a range of measures had been introduced to assist disabled people.

These included a device to help blind and partially sighted people use the ballot papers and the introduction of large print material at polling booths.

Moves have also been taken to improve access for wheelchair users at polling stations.

On 8 June, CS will begin the process of assessing access to polling stations, disabled parking facilities and improvements that could be made for the Scottish elections in two years time.


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