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Testing a New Audio and Tactile Voting Template Machine

Image described in caption
Shaun, a white man with medium brown hair, wearing a green and brown bomber jacket, is seated at a table. His eyes are closed and hands are placed on a tall, orangey yellow rectangular object with with dark circles incrementally up its length.

We are delighted to share this guest blog from our former Chair, Shaun McGarry and former Trustee, David Wilkinson, on their experiences testing a new audio and tactile voting template machine.

Testing a New Audio and Tactile Voting Template Machine

David and I recently liaised with our local council and their Election Office to encourage them to invest in the new audio and tactile voting template machine, called the McGonagle Reader. Our friend, Joy Croft (a Trustee at Equal Lives), was involved in the early testing stages of the machine a couple of years ago, and now, we can happily report that Great Yarmouth Borough Council have bought a single unit of machine.

On Tuesday the 31st of April, David and I, along with Catherine, the Volunteer Coordinator for the Great Yarmouth Hub for Vision Norfolk, went to the town hall to see and listen to this new piece of equipment for ourselves. We received a very useful demonstration of it by the Election Office Manager, Denise Wilby, and were able to play with its little doors, listening to its audio announcements every time we opened one of them. The doors expose a square hole, within which, one could draw a cross, just like the previous tactile template. Indeed, the main (and massive) difference this new version provides is full independence of being able to appreciate who the candidates are, and place our mark, all without any assistance from another person.

Denise said that the machine was quite easy to set up, with the final piece of it arriving only a couple of days before our visit. The company behind the machine, Pakflatt, also provides a transcription service; our ballot papers were converted into a series of audio prompts, which are saved on a USB memory stick and sent back to the district council that has these machines.

As a result of our trip, both David and I decided that we would vote at the local elections on Thursday the 2nd of May. We wanted to use the machine in our own Polling Stations and for it to be made available for us to use, so we organised this with Denise. David booked the machine for eight o’clock in the morning at the St. George Café, in Great Yarmouth, and I booked it for seven o’clock in the evening at my Polling Station in Bradwell.

We both had a mostly-good experience. At both Polling Stations, the machine was placed on a table so that we could sit down in front of it and use it. David had some difficulties with bright light from a window that he was facing while using the machine (its blinds were then drawn for privacy), and I was concerned that my table was too exposed to other voters passing by; there were a lack of partitions. Apart from that, we put on the headphones that come with the machine (which produced a very clear and good quality audio) and proceeded to select our candidates and place our marks. Then, we peeled off and folded our voting papers and popped them into our respective voting boxes. The process was as simple as that; David and I voted all without needing anyone to read the voting paper out for us.

It is early days; there is only the one machine, which will have to move around the whole district of Great Yarmouth and its forty-four polling stations. There will have to be some degree of administration to make use of the machine, both for the council and for Disabled voters, going forward. Regardless, we entirely encourage anyone to get into contact with their own Election Office and request them to purchase one of these very clever machines.


Shaun McGarry and David Wilkinson

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