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Blind voters left out in the cold

Local Governments fail to meet guidelines

The RNIB (Royal National Institute of the Blind) today revealed basic flaws in the design of several council websites, which prevented many visually impaired people from voting in yesterday's local elections.

According to the RNIB, increasing numbers of blind PC users have computers equipped with screen magnification and text-to-speech software, allowing them to access the web. However, websites still need to be coded in accordance with guidelines published by the W3C web accessibility initiative in order for such software to work.

However, the group found some local authorities 'pilot voting' sites contained basic coding errors.

"The introduction of e-voting should mean that people with disabilities, such as blindness and partial sight, have new means to cast their vote independently and privately," said Julie Howell, digital development officer at RNIB.

"Imagine how frustrating it must be when you have the desire and determination to cast your vote online but find yourself unable to because of the way the council website has been designed," added Howell. "Future online voting must be subject to much tougher access and usability controls.

But despite the criticism and a poor turn out across the board — about 30 percent of eligible people voted — constituencies with postal and e-voting systems on the whole have recorded a slight improvement in turn out, although officials have insisted it is too early to decide the outcome as many areas have still not submitted a breakdown of total votes.

One success story was in Swindon, where a massive 75 percent increase in voter turnout was recorded. Between 6am on Thursday 24 April and 12 noon on 30th April, 6895 electors voted via the internet, 2,792 by telephone, 330 by interactive digital television and 163 at street kiosks. At peak times the consortium was accepting 378 votes a minute.


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