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A Magazine for Sheffield

Disabled people and Sheffield’s local elections

Wheelchair access, face masks, tactile voting, BSL and Easy Read - everything disabled people need to know about voting on 4 May.

A brick wall with a Polling Station sign

Polling station


There are more than 100,000 disabled people in Sheffield, according to the 2021 census, and having our say in the local elections is vital if we want the issues that affect us to be taken seriously.

Disabled people need information on candidates and their policies and we need voting to be accessible to us when we turn up at the polling station.

The former is proving much more difficult to achieve than the latter.

Access to information about candidates

Sheffield Labour Party’s manifesto does not appear to be available in Easy Read or BSL formats. It mentions disabled people once, in the context of increasing the number of apprenticeships in the city to boost disabled people’s opportunities.

The Lib Dem manifesto for Sheffield also does not appear to be available in Easy Read or BSL formats. It doesn’t mention disabled people.

The Sheffield Green Party does not seem to have a manifesto for the city, but the national party’s manifesto has Easy Read, audio and BSL versions.

The Sheffield Conservative Party does not appear to have either a local or national party manifesto available for these elections, in any format.

Who Is My Councillor? has asked every candidate in Sheffield some questions. One specifically mentions disabled access in the city centre, a huge issue for many.

Read the answers of candidates in your ward to this and other questions.

Voting accessibility

The Elections Act 2022, which has been widely discussed in terms of the new requirement for voters to have photo ID, also brought in better accessibility standards to enable disabled people to cast their vote more easily.

James Henderson is a Deputy Returning Officer for this year’s local elections, as well as being Director of Policy and Democratic Engagement at Sheffield City Council. I spoke to him, along with James Martin from Disability Sheffield, about different aspects of disabled access in this year’s local elections.

Wheelchair access at polling stations

Like last year, one polling station in Sheffield is not wheelchair accessible. That is Hallamshire Proprietary Bowling Club, a polling station in the Crookes and Crosspool Ward.

If a wheelchair user or somebody else who can’t access the venue needs to vote there, James Henderson tells me that there will be provision for them:

There will be a greeter at the door of that polling station, [the voter] should just make themselves known to them. The greeter will then speak to the presiding officer and the presiding officer will come and support the voter to cast their ballot.

James Henderson, Deputy Returning Officer

Provision for blind and visually impaired voters

Sight-loss charity The RNIB explains that:

To support blind and partially sighted voters, all polling stations are required to have:

  • A tactile voting device

  • A large print copy of the ballot paper for reference

  • Magnifiers

  • Additional lighting

  • Assistance from polling station staff to be guided to the voting booth and to mark your vote if needed.

Returning Officers are also required to anticipate what is needed in their area and can provide additional equipment, such as audio devices to enable someone to vote independently and in secret.

Henderson confirms to me that these provisions will be in place in every polling station in Sheffield and tells me that other accessibility tools are now allowed to be used for the first time:

One of the areas where there's been a bit of a grey area in the past, and I think the Elections Act helps to clarify this, is around the use of mobile apps for screen reading. And it is very clear now that those are permitted, and are encouraged. Similarly, obviously, people can bring assistance dogs to support in the polling station.

James Henderson, Deputy Returning Officer

Companions for voting

If you are disabled and would benefit from having a companion to help you to vote, this is now allowed in polling stations.

Anybody over the age of 18 can take this role. If you are learning disabled, anxious, visually impaired or would struggle to vote for any reason and a companion would help, they just have to sign a declaration at the polling station to allow them to do this.

A woman looking into the camera wearing a black face mask

Voter ID and disabled people

Forms of voter ID

A range of ID documents can be accepted as forms of photo identification for the purposes of voting in this election, including:

  • A Blue Badge
  • Disabled Person’s Bus Pass funded by the UK Government
  • Registered Blind SmartPass

If you don’t have any of these, you can apply for a free voter authority certificate from the Council, but the deadline is tomorrow (24 April) at 5pm. The Electoral Commission says, “If you need help taking a photo, then your local council will be able to do this for you”.

James Henderson confirmed that Sheffield City Council is helping people in this way, but due to the very tight deadline, you would need to contact them on immediately.

CitizenCards are also valid ID for the purposes of voting in this election and can be obtained online for free with the code FREEVOTERID.

Face masks and voter ID

Many disabled people are still wearing face masks, so there has been anxiety about having to remove this to prove that their face matches the photo on their ID document.

Henderson confirms that voters will need to remove any face covering when showing their ID.

There is a requirement for every voter to have voter ID and for the polling station staff to check that the person in front of them is the person on their ID.

So if somebody is wearing a mask, they can ask to have their ID checked privately. We do have private spaces that are available in all of our polling stations and you don't have to give a reason as to why you want your ID checked privately.

If somebody doesn't feel comfortable doing that, maybe because they are claustrophobic or get anxious about being in smaller spaces, as a reasonable adjustment we could check that elsewhere.

It's for the presiding officer to assure themselves that the person in front of them is the person on the ID before issuing the ballot papers.

James Henderson, Deputy Returning Officer

The presiding officer may agree to check that a person’s face matches their ID outside the polling station, to reduce the risk of infection, but this is at their discretion.

Easy Read and British Sign Language guides to voting

My Voice My Vote is a collaboration between various charities “campaigning to remove voting barriers and raise awareness about people with learning disabilities and autistic people’s right to vote”.

They have produced some Easy Read guides to voting, and James Martin of Disability Sheffield assures me that “we've got specific information for each polling station [in Sheffield] now in Easy Read format”, available on the day.

The Electoral Commission has a series of videos in BSL about voting.

Voting passport

My Voice My Vote has also produced a voting passport, an A4 sheet of paper people can hand to polling staff to explain the reasonable adjustments they need.

As well as making a disabled person’s requirements explicit, the passport also contains information about the legal right to accommodations and demonstrates that nobody can be denied the right to vote based on their perceived mental capacity.

Polling station staff training

Even the best provision is no use if those in charge don’t know about it or don’t understand how to use it, so training polling station staff to be aware of disability and accessibility is essential for the available accommodations to be of use.

All polling station officers receive training and James Martin tells me that issues raised with him in local focus groups have informed that training. For instance, if somebody is claustrophobic and anxious about a small voting booth, the officers have been told about accommodations that may help.

The presiding officers also all get a chance to trial the tactile voting device and fit it to a ballot paper, to help them to assist blind and visually impaired voters if necessary.

James Henderson expands on this:

Historically I think presiding officers have been very aware of physical accessibility challenges to polling stations, and you've referenced some of those already. But one of the things that the Elections Act 2022 does is to provide a much greater focus and awareness on hidden disabilities as well.

And so that's one of the things that we've been talking to presiding officers about through the training sessions that we're providing.

So there may be people who feel anxious by being in enclosed spaces. There may be people who actually need a bit more time and space to think about the choice that they are going to go in to make.

And one of the things that we've also been talking to presiding officers about is that people may have multiple disabilities. So somebody, for example, might have a physical disability, but might also have dementia.

James Henderson, Deputy Returning Officer

If you need specific accommodations

If a person has a particular accommodation that they would need in order to vote, and they fear it may not be in place in their polling station, both Martin and Henderson encourage you to contact the Council – the sooner the better – to request that it is put in place.

To do this, email

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