A wheelchair-bound man had to vote in the street last week in an incident which had pre-poll volunteers questioning why Wollongong city’s only early polling place is not properly accessible.
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) early polling place has been set up in a Keira St shopfront previously occupied by a cut-price Chinese vase salesman. Its tenant prior to that was Workout World.
Wollongong-based lawyer Michael Sergent was handing out how-to-vote cards when he saw the problems last week.
A wheelchair-bound man aged in his 50s came along to vote and could not get up the polling place step.
“The manager went inside to get the voting papers, brought them out and stayed with him while he voted – while people walked by,” Mr Sergent said.
“In my opinion it’s obvious disability discrimination.
“The answer is simple: the AEC needs to buy a ramp leading into the building – there is only one step.
”I know schools and other voting facilities consider people with disabilities but this incident was not a good look.”
Information from volunteers suggests a large number of people with disabilities have struggled with access to the site.
Information from the AEC indicates the Keira St location is not deemed wheelchair accessible either owing to the state of the footpath.
The AEC has been unwilling to explain why it chose to rent a non-accessible site for the Wollongong pre-poll site.
There are no other pre-poll points in or near Wollongong city where people in wheelchairs can go.
The only other pre-polling place is the Ribbonwood Centre at Dapto, which is wheelchair accessible.
The AEC website lists the Keira St site as “assisted wheelchair access”.
But it then describes the site failing each of its accessibility criteria. There is not a kerb ramp available, the path is not free of pot-holes, ridges, overgrowth and debris, the path is not level and only parallel on-street parking is available.
The doorway does not have a ramp, and the entrance does not comply with accessibility requirements.
A spokesman for the AEC said only that a range of factors was considered.
“I don’t have the specifics at hand regarding the selection of this particular venue but can say that the AEC considers a range of factors when selecting polling venues,” he said. “This includes accessibility as well as other factors such as geographical location, historical use and availability.”
The Mercury’s further questions about accessibility and whether this was discrimination did not received a response from the AEC.