By Chris Rossiter
The forthcoming Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections have been a big topic of discussion recently. Regardless of how one feels about the value and purpose of these newly created roles, I doubt many people would argue against providing adequate information to the electorate.
PCCs will have extensive powers to set policing priorities and budgets, as well as hiring and firing the Chief Constable. This is an important change to how police services are currently managed, with the intention of making the police more ‘accountable’.
The Office for Disability Issues estimates that 11 million people in UK have ‘a limiting long term illness, impairment or disability’, so this is something that affects a substantial number of people. In addition recent reports suggest a substantial increase in the rates of disability hate crime. Therefore disabled people have just as much reason to take an interest in these elections as anyone else.
With this in mind you might be mistaken for thinking that candidates were heavily engaged with persuading members from across their communities, to vote for them and their plans. It is of course commonplace for individuals seeking election to explain their ideas in a manifesto or other published literature. The information for this election is heavily reliant on internet-based material such as websites, blogs and social media. The main public information sources on this election and the candidates are provided by the Electoral Commission online (www.aboutmyvote.co.uk or www.choosemypcc.org.uk).
The brief biographies offer little information, although some do provide links to external websites precisely for this reason.
My local area, the Thames Valley, has six candidates:
Those candidates from the three main political parties all have well-established websites and for the most part the content is clear. However the websites of Barry Cooper and Tayo Awe are less clear, and Geoff Howard’s biography lists no website at all.
Using screen-readers and other assistive technology I have been able to access the content on all available websites, except in the case of Tayo Awe; this content was not accessible at all. Those with visual impairments or restrictions to mobility or dexterity can have difficulty using conventional IT, but so can those with a specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia or dyspraxia, and so many utilise technology of this kind.
That said not everyone can afford or has access to information technology, an Internet connection, or the software needed to read text aloud or make changes to the way text is displayed.
An alternative way to present information, other than the websites discussed is by other electronic means, e.g. a PDF file, or paper-based alternatives. If used correctly files in PDF format are very versatile in terms of accessibility, whereas paper-based literature can be modified in terms of text size, or by the use of Braille.
I wanted to see how much of the information given by PCC candidates was accessible. So, I sent an email to five of the candidates. Unfortunately I received just one reply with an offer to help provide literature other than that on the Internet. Even more troubling was a response that apologised that no alternative formats were available because of ‘unfortunate limits on available resources’.
To select a suitable candidate the electorate must have access to accurate information. This is not just about choice, it is a fundamental right of all citizens to engage in political process, which includes the information candidates use to set out the goals for their term in office.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD), ratified by the UK government in 2009, is an international standard for human rights. The convention states that information should be available in accessible or alternative formats.
This is cited as:
In addition the Equality Acts (2010) anticipatory ethos, means that services must act pre-emptively to account for the additional needs of disabled people.
I do appreciate that for someone without the know-how or resources to achieve this, it can seem a daunting prospect. However people have a right to engage with, and be involved in, their communities and not sidelined resources permitting.
Human rights are not a luxury and should not be considered a choice.
Chris is a PhD candidate at the University of Surrey and Policy Officer at a national charity. Chris’s research explores the experiences of disabled employees and how organizational context can impact upon their wellbeing.