Disability advocates ask about accessibility voting measures

By Melissa Coade

May 18, 2022

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(Quality Stock Arts/Adobe)

Advocates have queried why accessibility-specific voting programs, like the NSW iVote model, have not been adopted at a federal level to enhance the democratic participation of people living with a disability. 

According to the Physical Disability Council of NSW and Vision Australia, real measures should be taken to deliver voting equality for people living with a disability. 

The advocacy groups claim accessibility and privacy issues have been put in the ‘too hard basket’ for too long, preventing voters with special needs from being able to vote in person at a federal election.

Physical Disability Council of NSW CEO Serena Ovens said most wheelchair users and people living with a physical disability voted at home as a matter of convenience.

“There are several key issues across this election that really matter to the disability community, including aged care, the cost of living and, of course, the NDIS, so we want as many accessible opportunities to vote as possible – iVote worked well in NSW in past, and is a secure and inclusive voting option for people with physical disabilities,” Ovens said. 

The technology-assisted iVote program was introduced in 2011 to assist blind and low-vision voters. But the NSW Electoral Commission recently announced the program would be suspended, likely after the 2023 state election.  

The advocacy groups want to see the state program continue beyond next year, and a similar model also considered for federal elections. 

Ovens said if governments did more to accommodate in-person voters living with physical disabilities, more people would want to be involved on polling day. 

“Participation across all democratic processes is vitally important to our members,” Ovens said. 

“Equally, others want to be a part of the election day experience and enjoy their ‘democratic sausage’ in their local area, and we still see too many inaccessible voting venues.”

Chris Edwards, Vision Australia’s manager of government relations, said alternatives to iVote, such as telephone voting, required people to disclose their vote to a third party. This raised privacy concerns and did not offer any reliable, verifiable way for voters to know their choice had been made as intended. 

“Blind and low-vision voters are already preparing for another federal election where they will be unable to independently cast a secure, independent and verifiable vote, and with iVote destined for the scrap heap, it looks like that will be the case at all elections in Australia for the foreseeable future,” Edwards said. 

“Both PDCN and Vision Australia are calling on governments across Australia to make a real commitment to providing the disability community with the same voting rights as the wider population,” he said. 


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