“I was born in Poland and it was there that I voted for the first time ever, when I was 18 and Poland was under communist rule. I think I voted at least 10 times, in Poland and England, including European, national and local elections. My best memory of being involved in voting was when I was overseeing the first democratic elections in Poland in 1989 being delegated to a polling station team: what an exciting experience that was!
When I was growing up in Poland, the only way to pick your political side was really by talking to friends and family. Newspapers were state controlled. TV debates were and still are not accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people due to a lack of live subtitling of live debates. You can of course read newspapers but from my own experience and perspective, it is live debates which bring more understanding of the candidate views, persona and how they present themselves.
A few years ago, I attended an event in Central London as part of “European Dialogue” prior to previous EU elections, which was organised by the EU Office. It was a bit of a battle to have the event captioned, so deaf and hard of hearing audiences could participate in it. However, there was a bit of disappointment when the promotional video was played. The video contained short messages in most EU languages. All different languages speakers were subtitled in English except one… when a person spoke English! This was really disappointing for me and my colleagues, we felt excluded and when we complained, our complaint was not fully understood.
In the UK, political parties with big party conferences do provide live captioning. Unfortunately, smaller gatherings in local branches are still not accessible due to a lack of hearing loops or speech to text support. The lack of basic support to enable better understanding of what is being said leads to less engagement in grassroots party activism.
In terms of access to campaigning and elections in the EU, the jury is still out. If we look to the situation in Poland, we are still behind countries like the United Kingdom, where all debates, all materials in mainstream media are fully subtitled. In the UK, all polling stations are accessible and often close to where we live. In London, where I live, the station is never too far and it takes me just a few minutes’ walk to go and vote. Additionally, if we wish, we can use our right to postal vote if we register this preference in advance. This way, we will never miss a chance to vote which I feel is a very important right for anyone who due to various circumstances cannot vote in person.”