Election 2017: Forest Gate law graduate calls for online voting for visually impaired voters

Ruksana Khanum. Picture: Royal Society for Blind Children

Ruksana Khanum. Picture: Royal Society for Blind Children - Credit: Royal Society for Blind Children

Ahead of next week’s general election, a law graduate is calling for more accessible voting systems for people with vision impairments.

Partially-sighted Forest Gate resident, Ruksana Khanum, wants political parties to introduce an online voting option and update current polling stations with electronic machines or an automated telephone system.

The Royal Society for Blind Children’s Youth Forum representative said the current options at polling stations, including large print ballot forms and braille overlay, are “really out of date and are not working”.

“They are really not a sensible solution because it is really easy to spoil your ballot paper,” the 26-year-old said.

“Also at the moment when I have to go, I need to take someone with me.

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“It doesn’t give me the right to an independent or anonymous vote because someone has to help me.”

Digital democracy think-tank WebRoots Democracy, which has teamed up with RSBC to raise awareness of the issue, says the digital technology already exists to run online voting.

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The charity’s chief executive, Areeq Chowdhury, said: “Voters are being left out of democracy by an analogue attitude towards elections.

“Digital technology exists to enable vision impaired voters to independently participate in elections, and it’s high time we adopted it for this critical purpose.”

Ruksana agreed calling voting “one of our fundamental rights”.

She said: “We as a democratic society need to uphold our democracy and make sure every vote counts.

“It feels like people who are visually impaired are not counted.

“I should be contributing to society but I know many visually impaired people who think ‘I can’t be bothered because it is too difficult’.

“You can’t really blame them for not wanting to get involved.”

WebRoots Democracy and the RSBC are carrying out research at the forthcoming general elections to better understand how technology can reduce the barriers to democratic participation for vision-impaired voters.

A spokeswoman for the electoral commission said polling station staff “must ensure that disabled voters are not offered a lower standard of service than other voters”.

She said: “Blind or partially sighted electors can vote without assistance using a tactile voting device provided at their polling station.

“We recommend that all polling station staff must know how to use the tactile voting device and are able to explain its use.”

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