Accessible Voting Checklist

The provisions in the following checklist have been prepared having regard to the National Disability Authority's 2002 publication Building for Everyone [1], and drawing on guidance and practice in other countries on accessible voting. These provisions are intended to give practical guidance so that people with disabilities can be enabled to vote at their local polling station, insofar as is practicable. The guidance is intended to facilitate voters who may walk with difficulty or depend on aids like sticks, crutches or walking frames, wheelchair users, and voters with impaired sight or hearing.

The checklist and guidance have the following objectives:

  • To assist Returning Officers in advance of an election in choosing premises to be used as polling stations and in checking the accessibility of premises they plan to use as polling stations
  • To identify practical actions to be taken to make polling stations as accessible as possible to people with disabilities and what can be done to remove barriers to accessibility
  • To assist Returning Officers in maintaining the accessibility of polling stations that are currently considered to be accessible To allow for checks to be made on the accessibility of the polling station before the polling station opens, and to take any necessary steps to facilitate voters with disabilities on polling day.

Selecting buildings to use as polling stations

In selecting buildings to be used as polling stations consideration should be given to more recently built premises as these are likely to have been built to more exacting standards of accessibility.

If the polling station traditionally used is not accessible to voters with disabilities, consider how in a reasonable and practical way it may be made accessible, for example:

  • If there are steps into the building or the voting area, consider if it is feasible to install a temporary ramp or platform lift, while maintaining ready access for those who walk with difficulty or with sticks or crutches [2]. The recommended gradient for a ramp is 1:20
  • Select only ground-floor rooms for voting purposes.

Accessibility Checklist

The following list is a general guide on some of the issues that should be considered in planning for and checking the accessibility of polling stations. It does not constitute a legal interpretation of any statutory provision, rather it is intended to assist returning officers and complements the Memorandum for Guidance of European Local Returning Officers at the European Parliament Elections Friday 5th June 2009 issued by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

Accessibility Checklist
QuestionYesNoIf "no", action to be taken
QuestionYesNoIf "no", action to be taken
Is there directional signage to the polling station along all approach routes and at the entrance?   
Is there a designated car parking space for people with disabilities near the main pedestrian entrance to the polling station and is it clearly marked?   
Are the pedestrian routes to the building free of hazards? Are they free of obstructions such as bins, outward-opening doors or windows or overhanging trees or bushes? Is it adequately lit? Are there steps or steep changes in level?   
Are access routes to the polling station of sufficient width and is the entrance to the building of sufficient width? Is the clear opening of the door at the entrance to the building at least 800mm width?   
Is the entrance to the building sufficiently well-lit?   
Is the entrance level? If not, is a slip-resistant smooth surface ramp provided with a maximum gradient no steeper than 1:20? Does it have landings, handrails and a textured surface? [3]   
Can the main doors be fully opened during the poll and be fully fastened?   
Are routes from the entrance to the polling rooms slip-free, well illuminated, hazard free and even?   
Are passageways wide enough for wheelchair users? Ideally passageways should be 1.8m wide to enable two wheelchair users to pass. A narrower corridor should have a turning space of 1.8m by 1.8m.   
Are the rooms being used for voting located on the ground floor?   
Are the floors of the voting rooms clear of potential hazards (e.g. storage boxes)?   
Are there suitable chairs available to facilitate elderly or ill voters who may need to sit? Are these chairs placed where they do not pose an obstruction?   
Is a low-height polling booth provided, to facilitate voters who use wheelchairs or are short of stature?   
Are all polling booths well lit?   
Are notices/ballot papers displayed in large print as required by law?   
Is the route between the entrance, registration desk and low-height booth as short as possible, level and hazard-free?   
Is assistance readily available to voters, upon request?   
Does the Presiding Officer know how to assist people with disabilities in voting as outlined in the Manual for Presiding Officers?   
Is there an emergency evacuation plan? Does it cover assistance to people with disabilities in evacuating the building? [4] Are those responsible for evacuation aware of the different needs of people with disabilities?   
Are emergency exits clearly marked and can people with reduced mobility use emergency exits?   

Useful Sources

1. Assistance by Presiding Officers for People with Disabilities

The Presiding Officer is responsible for monitoring the voting arrangements for people with disabilities and the elderly. These are outlined in paragraph 14 of the Manual for Presiding Officers at the European Parliament and Local Elections, Friday 5th June 2009 issued by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (the Manual). Detailed guidance on voting by people with physical disabilities, impaired vision or literacy difficulties is set out in paragraphs 16 - 18 of the Manual.

A Presiding Officer may offer assistance if a voter with a physical disability, impaired vision or literacy difficulty requests assistance but does not wish to be assisted by a companion voter. In the first instance, a Presiding Officer should follow the guidance provided in paragraph 18 of the Manual and at (2) below when communicating with the voter in these circumstances. In addition, the Presiding Officer should be mindful of the following:

  • In accompanying the voter, ask if they need help if you think that they might need it; offer your arm rather than taking theirs when guiding and warn them of any hazards on the route to the voting compartment;
  • Alert the voter and seek permission if it is necessary to move crutches, canes or mobility aids.

2. Guidance for Presiding Officers and Poll Clerks on Communicating with Voters

Voters may feel daunted or confused by the electoral process. Bearing this in mind, every effort should be made to provide services in a manner that will enable each person to vote, through either the things you say (communication) or do (assistance). In particular, all staff should be sensitive to any special needs the voter may have because of their age, language, or disability.

The following may be of assistance when communicating with voters:

  • Be patient and listen attentively;
  • Look directly at voters, speak with a normal tone of voice (avoid talking loudly or shouting) and ask whether they understand or agree. If you don't understand something that is said to you, it is important to ask again and clarify the position;
  • Speak slowly and carefully and avoid the use of technical terms and jargon by using clear and simple language; be descriptive - you may have to help orientate people with visual impairments and tell them what is coming up e.g. if they have to step up or down, and warn them of hazards;
  • Where possible, ask short questions that require Yes/No answers, or a shake or nod of the head;
  • Ask voters if they need help if you think that they might need it and offer to accompany them;
  • If a voter with a visual impairment or mobility difficulties needs guiding, remember to offer your arm rather than taking theirs;
  • If someone is deaf or hard of hearing use hand gestures as well as speech, e.g. by pointing to a voting booth; do not tap a person with a hearing impairment on the shoulder to get their attention.

Sources

Additional material may be accessed from the following:

  • Chief Electoral Office in New Zealand: A Personal Instruction Manual for Polling Place Staff for General Election 2008.
  • The National Disability Authority's 2002 publication Building for Everyone provides detailed guidance on making buildings accessible, and access to them
  • National Disability Authority 2002 Ask Me Guidelines for Effective Consultation

[1] Building for Everyone - An updated edition incorporating universal design is expected to be completed by end 2009.

[2] Any temporary solutions used on election day should be procured from reputable suppliers and installed correctly in order to ensure safe use. Guidance in NDA's Building for Everyone should be followed in this regard. Details of products and suppliers can be found at www.assistireland.ie

[3] See the section on Ramps and Steps pp.72-77 of NDA's Building for Everyone (2002) for more detailed specifications.

[4] NDA (2008) Promoting Safe Egress and Evacuation for People with Disabilities