Disabled man speaks out on voting access

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A disabled man who had no way of accessing his local polling station refused to vote on May 7.

Mehfuz Ahmed, 38, of South Street, uses an electric wheelchair because he has brittle bones.

When he went to Savile Town Infant and Nursery School to cast his vote last Thursday at around 8.15pm, two steps leading up to the door prevented him from getting in the building.

Mehfuz asked a polling officer where the disabled access to the building was, but was told that there wasn’t one. Officials offered to bring the ballot box out to him and people said they would assist him inside.

But Mehfuz said he was too embarrassed to cast his vote outside infront of the 50-80 people there and said that if somebody was injured while taking his electric wheelchair inside, he would be liable.

Mehfuz said: “I just want to be treated normally. It’s not right. We live in 2015. Every building should be accessible to disabled people.

“I did cause quite a hoo-ha because I wanted everybody to know what was going on.”

Mehfuz has voted since he was old enough to be able to and believes it is his “democratic right.” He said that he never had a problem voting when the polling station used to be at the Orchard Street community centre.

A Kirklees Council spokeswoman said: “The council is committed to providing everyone regardless of disability with equal access to the voting process.

“Our polling stations include lower level booths, ballot boxes placed on chairs making them more accessible to wheelchair users, large print ballot papers for the partially sighted, magnifying glasses and a device for the blind or partially sighted to assist with voting.

“Where possible we provide polling stations with disabled access.

“In this instance the only building large enough to accommodate the electorate in Savile Town was at a school which unfortunately does not have full disabled access.

“Presiding officers will where possible provide alternative options to allow people to vote. These include bringing the ballot box outside or helping lift a voter inside the building. These options were offered on this occasion but were declined.

“We have been in communication with the gentleman involved and apologised for not being able to provide him with disabled access to the building, we have also advised him that we will look into providing a temporary ramp at this polling station in future.

“The council also offers postal voting and proxy voting for anyone who may not be able to access or attend the polling station on the day for any reason.”

More information on these options is available online at www.kirklees.gov.uk/voting