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2010 National Disabled Members' Conference
8 July 2010
Carried as Amended

Conference believes that experiences of disabled voters, especially at the General Election 2010, expose many barriers that can disenfranchise a disabled voter.

In particular we are concerned that the Mental Health Act 1983 bans people who have been sectioned under the Act from standing as Parliamentary candidates in elections. Given the disproportionately high rate of black people who have been through the mental health system this means that they may be more likely to experience double discrimination and not have the right or freedom to enjoy democracy as a Parliamentary representative.’

We hear of inaccessible polling stations that are situated in a wide variety of venues including dimly lit rooms, caravans and portacabins. Election officers appear to commandeer whatever they can to be used as a polling station without really thinking through the varying needs of disabled voters. Many disabled voters do not wish to use the postal voting facility (which in itself may be inaccessible to some disabled people), but like to exercise their democratic right to attend a polling station and cast their vote in the ballot box.

Conference notes that political campaigners do try and identify their supporters who because of disability would welcome being transported to the polling station, however this is only helpful when the polling station itself is accessible; there is another alternative method of voting which is by proxy.

Conference also notes feedback from disabled voters with learning disabilities; that much political information is not written in language that is easier to understand; that the symbols used by political parties are not used consistently and are therefore less recognisable and that photographs of candidates in polling stations would be very useful.

In order that UNISON can play a leading role in making democracy accessible to disabled voters we should bring our views to the attention of the Electoral Commission and lobby that organisation for prompt action to eradicate barriers to democracy.

Conference instructs the National Disabled Members Committee to include in it’s 2011 work plan, a campaign using all resources available to it to achieve barrier-free voting at all referendums as well as local authority, parliamentary and European elections. This mandate would include sending a report to the Electoral Commission highlighting all the barriers that we are aware of, and seek for them to compel all local returning officers to:-

1.Comply with the Public Sector Disability Equality Duty 2006

2.Carry out thorough Equality Impact Assessments on all venues that are scheduled to be utilised as a polling place

3.Arrange for professional Access Audits at all venues that are scheduled to be utilised as a polling place and seek alternatives if barriers cannot be removed. Work to improve the voting system by including photographs at Polling Stations

Conference further seeks that all UNISON disabled activists feed reports via their regional disabled members committees to the NDMC, information about where barriers to disabled voters full participation exists. Such information will be invaluable to the NDMC if it is going to send any report to the Electoral Commission.

We further call upon the NDMC to work with UNISON Labour Link to lobby government to remove the potentially discriminatory ban in the Mental Health Act 1983 as a barrier to disabled people’s opportunity to be democratically active in public life.