General Election campaign fails to be accessible for Disabled people

Wed,5 June 2024
News Equality & Rights Participation
Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak stood outside 10 Downing Street and announced the date of the 2024 General election.

Many disability commentators and charities were quick to notice that yet again a national event was staged without the use of accessible information including BSL and captions, though  Downing Street had previously pledged to have British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters on hand for big announcements from spring 2024.

As part of the Government’s disability action plan, a commitment was given to “make government publications and communications more accessible”, including a pledge that “10 Downing Street will work to provide in-situ BSL interpretation for all major press conferences and briefings from spring 2024 onwards.”

This is not the only example of the Government failing to address the needs of Disabled voters. In 2021 it was forced into court over its failure to provide on-platform British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters for “urgent” and “critical” COVID-19 televised briefings. The case was brought by campaigners who stated that the briefings were not accessible to tens of thousands of people who have BSL as their first language.

As the election process moves on, the next concern for the Disabled community are the party manifestos, which are due to be released soon. The fear is that they will not be made accessible or inclusive, not only for the deaf community, but for people with sight loss, learning disabilities and those with autism. Previously, making manifestos accessible has just been ignored or overlooked, and in some cases, alternative versions have been published too late to read and digest, prior to voting.

Many Disabled people online are also seeing MPs and indeed the PM failing to use alt-text on the images being tweeted. Alt text is a way of making images more accessible to those who are visually impaired, by describing the key details and information contained in a photo or graphic.

There is also concern that much of the campaign literature popping through letterboxes and being shared on websites are failing to be made available in alternative formats. In 2022 The Department for Work and Pensions refused to release a report, which would have shown which of its websites and other digital services, breeched legal duties on accessibility. The story broken by Disability News Service showed that existing government sites were not easy to use on a mobile phone or could not be navigated using a keyboard, that there were inaccessible PDF forms that couldn’t be read out by screen-readers, and poor colour contrast that made text difficult to read.

Dan White policy and campaigns officer at Disability Rights UK said: “The need for parties to run more inclusive campaigns, goes without saying. It is unacceptable that Disabled people are excluded from a process that has such significant implications for our future. Voting is a democratic right for all, and not giving all citizens information in formats that we can access, is breaking the law and preventing our participation. 

“Disability Rights UK yesterday spoke to Disabled people who told us they have raised accessibility issues with their local MPs, but they have been ignored.”

“The barriers Disabled people face within political parties and from the wider political process has led to shockingly low numbers of Disabled MPs in the House of Commons. Only six MPs out of 650 MPs identified themselves as Disabled people, following the 2019 General Election. “

Politics MUST be inclusive in all aspects. Read about representation and voice in our Disabled peoples manifesto.