'Game changer' trial could revolutionise voting for the blind

Broadland and South Norfolk are trialling new kit that could be a 'game changer' for blind voters

Broadland and South Norfolk are trialling new kit that could be a 'game changer' for blind voters. Pic: Rui Vieira / PA Archive - Credit: PA

A "ground-breaking" pilot could revolutionise polling day, helping blind people vote independently for the first time.   

Two Norfolk councils have been selected to run a trial for a machine that can be handed out to blind and partially sighted voters, which will speak out the names of candidates listed on the ballots.  

Currently, blind voters need a polling staff member or companion to read out the candidate’s names, and a tactile voting device (TVD) - a plastic sheet that attaches to the form with holes for a vote to be made.  

The trial will be carried out across nine polling stations in South Norfolk and Broadland, with support from the cabinet office and the Royal National Institute from the Blind (RNIB).  

Trevor Holden, the managing director at South Norfolk and Broadland, said if the concept works it could benefit hundreds of thousands of people across the country.  

“We will be offering blind and partially sighted people the chance to vote in a way that they haven’t been able to before,” he said.  

“We see this as a way for people to exercise their democratic right to vote, without assistance and in secret.”  

Machine used for speaking out candidates on the ballot paper

The machine will read out the names of candidates on the ballot paper and can be reused each election - Credit: George Thompson

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The machines, which cost around £60 and can be reused each election, will be well known to people who use talking newspapers.  

Mike Wordingham, policy and campaigns officer at RNIB, said the trial is important because TVD are useless without being told the exact order of candidates on the ballot.  

Adding: "Including someone else in the voting process means that people like me lose the ability to vote independently and secretly.  

“By using this new audio device alongside the TVD, locals taking part in this ground-breaking trial will be able to hear for themselves who is on the ballot paper and vote without as much assistance from others.

A tactile voting device with a blank ballot sheet

A tactile voting device with a blank ballot sheet - Credit: George Thompson

“We will be monitoring feedback from the trial very closely, but we are cautiously optimistic that the audio device could be a game-changer in voting for blind and partially sighted people.”  

While Mr Holden did not expect huge uptake this year, as many people will have chosen to vote by post due to Covid, he said it was important to make it a normal part of the voting process. 

The trial locations are:  

Broadland: 

Sprowston Methodist Church 

Sprowston South East Gage Road Chapel 

Sprowston North East Sports and Social Club 

Thorpe St Andrew Football Club 

Our Lady Mother of God Church, Thorpe St Andrew 

South Norfolk: 

Wymondham RC Church 

Wymondham Abbey Hall 

North Wymondham Community centre 

Ketts Parks Community and Recreation, Wymondham 

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