The UK parliamentary elections are just four days off.
How can blind people mark their ballot slips on the 7 May?
For most of my voting life I never gave this the slightest scrap of thought, but my recent experience of becoming partially sighted prompted me to do some investigation.
Suppose you are not just partially sighted, but blind. You could have a postal vote of course, but suppose you prefer to vote at the polling station. How can you fill in the ballot paper?
One solution is to vote by proxy, with the aid of a companion, or a member of staff at the polling station. But there is an issue of independence and autonomy. So how can blind voters be enable to mark the paper for themselves?
Even for sighted people the business of voting is mildly intimidating – don’t you think? – and if you are totally blind it must be a big challenge.
In 2001 an effective and easy to use system was developed by Goodwin. It’s a nice example of keeping it simple, sensible.
Here’s how it works. At the polling station they have plastic strips that can be stuck over the right-hand side of the ballot slip, the column where you would make your X in one of the boxes.
The strip is like a tiny advent calendar, with windows that peel back. Each reveals a box where you can make a mark to vote for a particular candidate. The windows are numbered 1, 2, 3 etc. and embossed with their number, which is also given in Braille. Tactile voting. You can feel where to put your cross.
You tell the staff at the polling station you are blind. They stick the strip on the right-hand side of your ballot slip. Then someone – I think it can be anyone you choose – reads the names and other details of the candidates out to you in order. You remember what number candidate you want to vote for, go into the booth, find the right window by touch, peel it back, and… make your mark in the right spot.
I think this a model example of good design that focuses on the user experience. Too often design is driven by visual appeal as opposed to good functionality. But visual appeal cuts little ice with the blind!
For more about sight loss and voting see here.