Voting for People with Disability

Ballot BoxTo vote is to express an opinion or a choice. In Australia, voting is fundamental to our democracy.  I believe that all Australians have a right to have their voice heard. However, some people in Australia are not afforded this luxury.

This is noted by the Australian Human Rights Commission as stating: “A healthy democracy makes sure that all members of the community have equal access to the political process. Australia is a democratic nation where governments are elected by popular vote. However, even though almost all Australians over 18 years old have the right – and the obligation – to vote, not all Australians enjoy that right as a practical matter.” Date:  2010

There are millions of citizens with visual, motor, and cognitive impairments who are still unable to vote due to traditional paper ballots and certain in-person voting systems. More recently, we have adopted a telephone voting system for people with vision impairments, however this does not solve the issue of exclusion for a range of other impairments. Today many obstacles still exist for people with disability to cast their vote independently and secretly due to inaccessibility of premises at voting booths, not to mention those who cannot leave their homes.

Let’s think about it? What if you can’t hold a pen? What if you have a speech impairment? Yes, physical access to a polling booth is needed – but what about once you get there? Many more barriers are faced for people with disability than you think. Assistance is generally provided, however how is this not allowing a secret or independent vote.

Today, we live in a Technology society. We have an App for everything! I have said it before, and I will say it again: Technology is an enabler for people with disability. People with disability have a voice and want to be heard, more than anything we would like to be included. This also means that we need to be included in voting and have the option to express our opinions and choices.

The United Nations has declared the theme for International Day of People with Disability 2014 as Sustainable Development: The Promise of Technology. If we look at voting and moving forward, there is a real possibility that voting could (and should) be done online – with many States in America trialing it with success.

Most voters with disabilities already have the use of their internet, devices and phones adapted to assist with their impairment to suit their needs. In using these adaptive devices, it allows voters to vote from home without the loss of privacy implied by manual assistance. Online ballot systems are portable and can be used anywhere.  They could be in the form of either a laptop, tablet or smart phone and can be equipped with common assistive technologies, such as audio with headphones, zoom and contrast capability.

In designing accessible voting, we need to include as many disabilities as possible. Better yet, we go for the great adage of Universal Design – where we are all included to use the system and yet again people with disability are not cast out using a different process.

Wouldn’t we all love the convenience of voting online? Come on Australia – include us so we can all have our say with privacy and independence!

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