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Accessibility issues a barrier to voting

Some people with mobility issues in Greytown, Featherston, and rural areas of Wairarapa may be prevented from casting their vote due to accessibility issues at local voting centres.

The Electoral Commission website’s list of where to find accessible sites shows no fully accessible voting centres in Featherston, Greytown and several rural communities around Wairarapa.

CCS Disability Action access advisor for the central region Raewyn Hailes said she is concerned about the accessibility problems hindering people’s human right to move about independently and exercise their democratic right to vote.

Although telephone dictation services are available to those with accessibility issues – primarily for the blind or people with low vision – these services require advanced registration and involve giving your vote over the phone, something that removes people’s ability to have that “complete autonomy and privacy you’d expect to have”.

Hailes said most of the accessibility issues are easy fixes.

She explained that most of the time, the issue is a small lip or step at the top of a ramp, and there are cheap options to remove such obstacles that are available at any standard hardware store.

Hailes acknowledged the Electoral Commission has done some work to make voting more accessible with things like the telephone dictation service but said those efforts are redundant if people’s independent movement is still restricted.

“It takes away that independence of being able to do it on your own in the same way your peers do,” she said.

Hailes also noted that the voting booths are flimsy and can be challenging for people with mobility aids.

If a person using a mobility aid bumps a booth, it can shift and potentially fall over.

“If you need both your hands on your device, then realigning is a bit of a process, and it is difficult,” Hailes said.

Wairarapa has high numbers of elderly people who may experience mobility issues and people generally become less mobile as they age, Hailes said.

Greytown local and wheelchair user Ian McDonald told the Times-Age he managed to get into the Greytown Town Centre to vote but then struggled with the cardboard voting booth.

He said it didn’t seem as if there had been much thought put into the height of the booths either, as it proved difficult to cast a vote while leaning up.

Part of the cardboard voting booth isn’t attached very well, McDonald said, and would fall down when knocked – especially if the user had to lean up to use it.

“Thankfully, I only had to put two ticks,” he said before adding that he found the process a “bit awkward”.

Times-Age approached the Electoral Commission for comment on how voting centres are chosen and whether accessibility is a consideration, as well as what voting options people with mobility issues have.

However, a spokesperson said they were unable to respond before the print deadline.

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