Tuesday 21st May 2019, the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI) is becoming increasingly concerned that many of the 55,000 people living with sight loss in Ireland will be unable to vote independently this Friday, despite the availability of tactile voting templates. Tactile templates have been available to people who are blind and vision impaired in referenda since 2018, and were used in the Presidential Election in the Autumn of the same year.
Kevin Kelly, Head of Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns with NCBI says, “While we recognize the strides undertaken by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to introduce tactile templates following the April 2017 High Court ruling. The reality is given there are multiple polls as well as a referendum on Friday it means many blind and visually impaired people will have to use a minimum of three tactile templates, something which is likely to prove confusing for many.
“Also the lack of coordinated information to assist people who are blind and visually impaired means that voting independently will not be an option for many. For instance, Local Authorities and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government have been slow to put in place their freephone numbers which are meant to list each candidate for both the European and local elections as they appear on the ballot paper to aid people who are blind and vision impaired. And where they do exist, there has been limited promotion of these freephone numbers.
Another challenge is the final list of candidates was not known until three weeks in advance of polling, making it virtually impossible to have the freephone numbers and online resources available in a timely fashion to allow someone to familiarize themselves with the candidates running in their locality.
Mr Kelly concluded “The Department commendably engaged in a sincere and collaborative fashion to make the tactile voting templates as accessible to all as possible. However, it is imperative that following this round of elections, serious consideration is given to alternative means of voting for people who are blind and vision impaired. NCBI believes the only truly independent means for a blind or vision impaired person to cast their ballot is either by telephone or electronically. Negative experiences with electronic voting in the past cannot be allowed to prevent the almost 55,000 people living with sight loss from exercising their right to a secret ballot. NCBI looks forward to engaging constructively with the Department as part of the existing Working Group on Accessible Voting to make this a reality in the years ahead.”