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Exercising your right to vote… and to exercise

What countries around Europe are doing to make voting more accessible. The small tweaks made by one gym that made exercising a whole lot more inclusive, if not necessarily easier.

In Touch listeners share their voting experiences, and one Australian citizen tells how she was able to vote independently in the recent federal election. The European Blind Union has researched the main accessible forms of voting throughout Europe, and the results are surprising.

A gym in Uckfield, Sussex has listened to the needs of one visually impaired woman, made some small changes, and enabled her to exercise comfortably and confidently. We find out how they did it.

Presenter: Peter White
Producer: Lee Kumutat

Available now

19 minutes

In Touch Transcript: 21-05-19

Downloaded from www.bbc.co.uk/radio4
THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT.  BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.

IN TOUCH – Exercising your right to vote... and to exercise

 

TX:  21.05.2019  2040-2100

PRESENTER:           PETER WHITE

PRODUCER:             LEE KUMUTAT


White

Good evening.  The right to exercise your vote and the right to exercise.  After the UK’s arrangements to enable blind people to vote were declared illegal, why we could have something to learn from Estonia.  And how one gym in Sussex has put out the welcome mat.

 

Clip

Have a sit down.

Thank you.  I am sitting down, I’m knackered.  Just get my breath back.

 

White

More from Uckfield later in the programme.  But first, there’s another opportunity to go to the polls this week with the European Elections.  But according to the High Court, here in the UK, for visually impaired people the method of voting will fail the tests of accessibility or secrecy.  The idea of a piece of plastic with X sized holes in which you can only indicate your candidate of choice with sighted help doesn’t cut it.  In a moment we’ll be finding out how other Europeans will be casting their votes this week. But you’ve been telling us about some of your own voting experiences.

 

For Christopher Kennedy, for example, secrecy was the concern.  He declined the polling official’s offer to stay with him and complete the form for him, even though he was finding using the template difficult.  He goes on: “Once I’d marked three candidates, I continued to study the sheet, just to check that I’d got it right.  The polling officer quickly tapped me on the shoulder and said – I see that you’ve selected three candidates and I wanted to make sure you know you can’t mark anymore or you’ll spoil your ballot.  “Clearly,” says Christopher, “my vote was far from private.”

 

Not everyone dismisses the templates out of hand.  Brian Gaff, from Chessington, says he’s had little trouble with the template although he recalls one occasion when the ballot form was so long it was actually rolled up like a toilet roll and trailed on the floor, becoming a safety hazard.

 

But frustration with the system has led Ruth Gibbon, from Walsall, to give up voting altogether.  She told us why.

 

Gibbon

If I could find out where the nearest polling station was, because I’d have to ring the council to do that, the cards always come just in standard print, so they’re not readable for me.  But even if I could get there I wouldn’t know exactly where the school or hall was.

 

White

What would it take to get you voting again?

 

Gibbon

Probably it would take vote by phone, which they can do all over Europe for the Eurovision, so I can’t imagine why on earth they can’t do a vote by phone in Britain.

 

White

Well perhaps Ruth should consider moving to the other side of the world.  Australians went to vote at the weekend, delivering the kind of poll contradicting result we’re becoming used to, but we were more interested in how Fiona Woods cast her vote.  She told me from Sidney, New South Wales.

 

Woods

This time being a federal election the accessibility voting method that was offered was telephone voting and it was assisted by a person.  For the most recent New South Wales state election we had another system, which offered internet voting or you could vote using your phone, using your keypad, that that was completely automated, so you didn’t need to interact with a person or you could choose to interact with a person as well. 

 

First, I should probably explain, that in Australia voting is compulsory, so I suppose it’s very desirable that there be a system that is accessible to everyone because you’ve got to pay a penalty if you don’t vote.  Secondly, we have a preferential voting system, so that you don’t just vote for one candidate, you have to vote for – in my electorate there were five candidates but in some electorates there would be up to 10 or more – and you have to vote for if not all then definitely six of those people in order.  And then thirdly, we have two houses of parliament and both of them are elected, so we have to vote for the House of Representatives and for the Senate and in New South Wales there were 136 people you could choose from.

 

White

And could you just explain what you do to do that, to cast your vote?

 

Woods

You have to make a declaration that you’re a blind or visually impaired person who can’t vote using a ballot paper without assistance and you tell them your electorate, you can get voting information in accessible formats, so I got a list of my candidates and a list of the Senate candidates, I got them in braille but I could have got them in large print or online and I think audio as well.  I was asked would I like to receive my registration code as an SMS or an email and you also have to come up with a pin code.  And at no point do I give my name.  So, those two pieces of information are enough to tell that person my electorate, she goes and gets the correct – or he – goes and gets the correct ballot paper and then they get a second person – has to come and watch them fill in my ballot paper.  Then I tell them exactly what I want to do on the ballot paper and I have done this in the past, I have chosen to vote below the line in the Senate which is where you individually number the number of senators and you can imagine that probably took, last time I did it, about 40 minutes.  And the person will read back to you exactly what you’ve chosen at the end of the process.

 

White

But it is quite a major exercise, it obviously takes time, it’s not like popping into the poll and doing your vote with a scrawl but with somebody helping you?

 

Woods

In the past I would have had to go with either someone I trusted or I could have asked an electoral official and we sort of stand in these cardboard booths and so you have to whisper to that person – John Smith, number one; Fred Jones, number two – it’s quite difficult to go through that process a number of times and to feel any sense of secrecy or privacy or anything else.  So, even those these can be time consuming I still think it’s better and it probably only took – I mean it took longer for me probably to explain it to you than to actually do it.

 

White

Fiona Woods. 

 

So, how will other Europeans be casting their votes later this week and what do we have to learn from them?  The European Blind Union describes itself as the voice of the 30 million blind people in Europe, it’s calling for a consistent standard which establishes accessibility and privacy and they’ve produced a report which highlights who’s doing it well and who isn’t.  It looked broadly at five methods by which visually impaired people can vote, with an assistant, using a tactile device like the template we’ve been talking about, voting by mail, voting in advance and electronic voting. 

 

Benedikt van den Boom is very much involved in the campaign.  He’s International Relations Officer with the German Federation of the Blind and Partially Sighted and he’s been telling me from Berlin about some of the report’s findings.

 

Van den Boom

My home country, Germany, has been using the stencil or the template, since the turn of the century.  And there’s actually trials going on in the Netherlands, for example, to introduce stencils.  And what we found to be quite important, except for the design of the stencil or the template that includes both braille and large print, is to have an audio file that gives additional information.  In Germany we sent this to all template users before the election, so that they can acquaint themselves with the content.  In the Netherlands, in the trials, the audio system was installed in the polling station so that voters were guided through the template and the content of the ballot at the time of voting.

 

White

Now you looked at five ways of voting, no mention of telephone voting in that list of five, although, again as we’ve heard in the programme, it’s been used just last weekend in Australia.

 

Van den Boom

The way we approached telephone voting was based on the evaluation of previous rounds of voting in Australia where someone at the other end of the line records the vote and marks it on a paper ballot.  First you do not know whether the person on the other end of the line really ticks the vote as indicated and it’s not secret.

 

White

But Fiona, the Australian lady we talked to, she did talk about an automated system that they were using which would get over that problem wouldn’t it?

 

Van den Boom

If a system is automated this would certainly have the advantage that many people feel more comfortable with the operation of a phone than with the operation of a computer.

 

White

Now I said at the beginning of the programme that we had much to learn from Estonia, what exactly are they doing?

 

Van den Boom

In Estonia, it has been possible for a number of years now to cast the vote electronically through a state-owned internet platform.  Citizens log in with their citizen data, have all the information about the ballot in their respective constituency available in accessible online formats and can then select their preferred option on this digital ballot, click on send and even can re-send a different choice if they change their mind closer to election day.  We have asked the Estonian Federation of the Blind about the system and it has been indicated to us that it is almost fully accessible to visually impaired users, which is optimal because it guarantees a vote in secret, it guarantees an independent vote and it guarantees the voters have exactly the same amount of information as anyone else.  Between a quarter and a third of the overall population use electronic voting or internet voting, in the case of Estonia, which shows that it’s also accepted by everyone else, it’s not a niche solution for visually impaired people but really for the general population.

 

White

Benedikt van den Boom.

 

And we can only repeat that the Cabinet Office has told us that they are looking in to possible solutions in light of the High Court’s decision that the current options are not lawful.

 

Now if you fancy a workout as well as exercising your democratic rights gyms can pose access problems as well.  For quite a while Bex Kenton, from Uckfield in Sussex, avoided going to the gym.  The introduction of digital technology has made the machinery and the equipment harder to use for some.  Exercise bikes and rowing machines are often programmed by touchscreens, which means, yet again, we need sighted assistance.  But when a friend told Bex about the CrossFit gym in her local town she decided to give it a try.  She contacted the owner, Krish Stevens, who set about making the gym more accessible for her. 

 

Tom Walker has been along to find out about the results and discovered Bex listening to the warmup instructions on digital tin lids.

 

Warmup instructions

Wrist warmup.  Ten kettle bell goblet squats.  Five heavy single arm kettle bell swings from each arm and 10 empty bar muscle cleans with 10 front squats.

 

Kenton

Everybody else gets their warmup information from a TV screen, up high on the wall, which I can’t see, so this makes it a lot more accessible. 

 

Walker

Bex, you’re about to start your warmup, where are you going to first?

 

Kenton

I’m going to the bike.  So, Verity’s just going to read the calories because I can’t read the bike.

 

Verity

You’re up to four calories, so 20 for this warmup.

 

Kenton

We actually met here but we actually live only a few doors from each other. 

 

Verity

Yeah, so we make sure that we come down as many sessions as possible and we can sit and chat about it afterwards, about what worked well and what we’re really proud about.

 

Kenton

Yeah, it’s a lot of fun.

 

Verity

Nineteen – one more, one more calorie.  And 20, you’re done, well done.

 

Walker

Exhausted already!

 

Kenton

Yeah.

 

Walker

How long have you been coming to the gym for?

 

Kenton

I did my intro on the September 4th, so around seven months now.

 

Walker

And what were you doing before that?

 

Kenton
I had a year out of the gym, I didn’t go to the gym at all but I actually have been going to regular traditional gyms since I was a teenager but they just don’t offer anything, I’ve been to several ones and they just leave you to your own devices and when touchscreens came in, you’re just kind of like what do you do.

 

Verity

Okay, so, you can just about see where that red box is, yeah?

 

Kenton

Yeah.

 

Stevens

So, Bex, you’re going to tap it with your foot, so you know where it is, just have a little check, so you know how high it is and then jump.  Perfect.  How did that feel?

 

Kenton

Yeah.

 

Stevens

Shall we go up one?

 

Hi Krish Stevens and I own CrossFit Uckfield where Bex trains.  CrossFit is a combination of Olympic weightlifting, power lifting and gymnastics movements with some cardio thrown in, in an ever-changing combination of movements.

 

Walker

You’ve worked closely with Bex, since she started coming here, what, some eight or nine months ago, what support do you provide her with?

 

Stevens

She’s partially sighted, so she can see contrast, so there’s a lot of black in the gym, so we put yellow and black tape on steps and things like that and we put white tape round the rings so that she can see them and we just sort of make her aware when there’s obstacles.  Pretty much everything that we have programmed on the board she can do.  Some things we have to scale and some things we have to adapt, some things she needs a bit more support with than other things but we haven’t found anything yet that she can’t do.

 

Kenton

And then the clip goes on.

 

Walker

So, when you first started coming here, what were you like, describe yourself?

 

Kenton

I was overweight, I’ve lost nearly three stone since then.  I couldn’t jump on a box, I couldn’t run 100 metres let alone 400 metres, which I’ve done since I’ve joined here.  I couldn’t lift a lot of weight.  I couldn’t do a lot of things basically, physically, because I’d just been so used to going on a bike for 20 minutes or walking on the treadmill at high speed for 20 minutes, just small stuff so you never really improved.

 

Walker

And since you came here, how have you changed as a person, as well as physically?

 

Kenton

I don’t feel so isolated anymore, I have something that I want to go and do – gets me out the house.  I’m a lot fitter, so I get out a lot more, I’m social a lot more.  So, it just improves every aspect of your life really.

 

Walker

So, this is a family affair really isn’t it, Bex – your mum here?

 

Kenton

I kind of convinced my mum to start really but at the moment she’s just doing Pilates, aren’t you?

 

Bex’s mum

Yeah, just starting with Pilates.

 

Walker

How well has Bex done since you started coming?

 

Bex’s mum

The most amazing thing to me is her balance, she can balance now and in all her life she’s never been able to balance.  So, that’s really good.  And a lot more fluidity in her movement.

 

Actuality – workout

 

Walker

Do you enjoy the fact that you can actually talk to people as you go round?

 

Kenton

Yeah, in regular gyms you have things like people on headphones, there’s no headphones, they’re actually banned.  So, people actually talk and you get to know them.  I mean I wouldn’t have known that my neighbour, three doors down on my road, came to the same gym as I did.

 

Actuality – workout

 

Walker

Do you feel that it is part of your commitment as a person, if you like, to be as diverse as possible and as inclusive as possible?

 

Stevens

Absolutely.  I sat down with my other coaches a while back and we worked out what is our mission statement, what is it that we want to do, and we want to make this gym accessible to anyone who wants to train here.

 

Walker

The final round has just started.  Bex is lifting the weight again and even I can see that she really is looking a little bit tired now.  Have a sit down.

 

Kenton

Thank you.  I am sitting down, I’m knackered, just get my breath back.

 

Walker

What do you hope to achieve longer term?

 

Kenton

Just to be as fit and healthy as I can be and hopefully maybe next year or whenever I’m up to it, to do a couple of competitions just for fun.

 

White

Bex Kenton.  So, it begs the question why can’t they do that everywhere.  Let’s have your reactions and we’ll attempt to put your points to some of the larger gym chains.

 

Now on last week’s In Touch we heard the moving reflections from listener Catherine Mcateer on whether after 40 odd years she had accepted her blindness.  She got in touch with us as a response to a previous discussion about the varying ways in which people try to come to terms with losing their sight. 

 

Well another Catherine, Catherine Dembek, also felt compelled to email her thoughts.  About seven months ago the retina in Catherine’s right eye suddenly detached and although after a couple of operations there’s been some improvement, she’s also feeling grief for that loss.  She’s been explaining why that discussion struck a chord with her.

 

Dembek

It was the need to adjust to a huge change of no longer having perfect vision, of no longer having a right eye that worked and just the need to accept that.  And in the programme, you were asking – well have you come to terms with that, have you accepted it.  And that question really struck a chord with me because I thought this is the stage I’m at, nothing can be done surgically for my right eye anymore, so I’ve simply got to accept it.  I do have sight still in one eye and so I realise I’m far better off than many people but nevertheless it’s an adjustment.

 

White

And it’s still very personal to each individual.  What’s the impact of your sight loss, at the moment, on you?

 

Dembek

I’m pleased I can do everything but more slowly, I go down stairs carefully, hold on to the handrail, because I look down and I can’t see as well as I could.  But I’m managing to function but everything feels a bit different.  They talk about life changing injuries, well this has changed my life to an extent and that’s what I’m coming to terms with.  But I think it is a process and I’m still quite – I’m only eight months having had this happen, so it still feels comparatively early days.

 

White

Catherine Dembek.

 

And that’s it for today.  We are getting some wonderful responses from you at the moment on all kinds of subjects but we’re greedy, we want more.  You can contact our phone line, on which you can leave your comments, that number is 0161 8361338 – 13 38 – you can also visit our website, from where you can download tonight’s and other editions of In Touch.  From me, Peter White, producer Lee Kumutat and the team, goodbye.

 

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