Are polling stations accessible?

During an election, most people vote at a polling station. To be accessible, a polling station must be usable by all persons with disabilities. As well as people with physical impairments who may, for example, find it difficult to climb stairs, this means taking into account the needs of people with visual or hearing impairments and people with intellectual disabilities.

In nearly two-thirds of EU Member States there is a legal requirement for some or all polling stations to be accessible to persons with disabilities. The analysis presented below, however, shows that there is no reliable source of data to compare the numbers of polling stations that are accessible to voters with disabilities in practice in different EU Member States. Instead, the map shows those Member States where some data on polling station accessibility is collected. Where data was available, estimates of the proportion of accessible polling stations ranged from 2% to 50%.

Is data available on the proportion of polling stations that are accessible to persons with disabilities in the EU?

13 EU Member States have some official data, 4 have some unofficial data and for 11 not data has been identified

Source: FRA, 2014

In 13 EU Member States, some official data was collected by public authorities on the number of polling stations that are accessible for persons with disabilities. However, in many cases this data was incomplete, either because it only covered certain cities or provinces, or because it only considered accessibility for certain impairment groups. For example, data provided to FRA by the National Electoral Commission (Državna volilna komisija) in Slovenia indicates that out of a total of 3,337 polling stations for the 2012 presidential elections, all polling stations had stencils available to assist persons with visual impairments, 1,148 (34%) were free of ‘architectural barriers’ preventing access for persons with physical disabilities, and only 30 polling stations were officially designated accessible polling stations with a voting machine to assist persons with visual or physical disabilities. In a further four Member States, unofficial data on the number of polling stations could be identified.

The criteria for determining whether a polling station is accessible vary widely. However, they mostly refer to the wheelchair accessibility of the building, and do not take into account the accessibility needs of people with other types of impairment. In the Netherlands, the criteria mostly address accessibility for people with physical and visual impairments, for example the provisions of specific parking spaces, clear signs and low-level voting booths.

In 11 out of 28 Member States no source of information on polling station accessibility was identified during FRA’s research.