Rosemary Frazer is Campaigns Manager at Scope. In the final days leading up to the General Election, she shares her story of why it’s important disabled people are able to cast their vote as easily as everyone else, as part of our 100 days, 100 stories campaign.
I’ve been interested in politics for as long as I can remember. Friends and family tell me my interest borders on geekishness, but I grew up in Northern Ireland, where politics and politicians were a constant presence, so I suppose I could blame it on that!
I’ve always been a keen campaigner, mainly on disability issues as I am a wheelchair user. I had been supported by local politicians for various campaigns. I couldn’t wait to vote for the first time at 18. I remember going to the polling station, marking my ballot paper and folding it up before popping it in the box. I watched the election results come in late into the night (doesn’t everyone do that?). Unfortunately my favourite candidate didn’t get elected. First lesson of politics, you don’t always get to choose the winner!
What do you mean I can’t get in?
I moved to London in the late ’90s and in 2001 I was excited to be voting for the first time in London. I registered to vote, received my ballot paper and was all set. I got to the polling station and found that I couldn’t get into the building because it wasn’t accessible!
I couldn’t believe that they hadn’t sorted out proper access. It really did throw me! I was reminded of the time as a child I heard about the Suffragette Movement and thought ‘Why on earth would women not be allowed to vote?’ My thoughts were exactly the same about access at polling stations. ‘Why on earth would you not provide proper facilities for disabled people to vote?’
I had to vote in the car park
I kicked up quite a fuss and in the end a rather farcical situation ensued. The staff at the polling station physically carried a polling booth outside and I cast my vote in the car park. I remember feeling so angry and embarrassed as people arriving to vote were looking at me wondering what on earth was going on. I decided there and then I wouldn’t be going through that experience again!
Importance of voting and being seen to vote
I had heard about Scope’s Polls Apart campaign to improve access to voting for disabled people and ended up getting involved with others in improving access, awareness and support in my constituency.
Access to voting hasn’t improved anything like as much as it should have done since my dreadful experience in 2001. At the 2010 General Election, Scope campaigners reported on 400 Parliamentary Constituencies and found that two-thirds (67%) of polling stations had at least one significant access barrier.
Participating and belonging
Postal voting is a vital option for people who find it difficult to travel to their polling station. However postal ballots should not be an excuse for not providing good access and staff training. Indeed by not using accessible venues disabled people are further disadvantaged by not being able to volunteer at polling stations or counting centres.
It is really important for me to be seen to be participating in the same things that non-disabled people do. Taking part in the democratic process is a vital part of that.
My local polling station is now fully accessible with well trained staff. When I cast my vote on May 7th I will be able to do so just like everyone else. For me things have greatly improved but more work needs to be done and we need to keep pushing for better access and support.
I will still be staying up half the night to watch the results come in so perhaps I really am a geek!
Find out more about our 100 days, 100 stories campaign, and find out more about the lives of disabled people and their families.