A new freephone service will be used to assist visually impaired voters in next week's local elections.

It can be used in conjunction with ballot paper templates, which will be employed for the first time in council and European parliament elections on 24 May.

Each local authority is setting up a dedicated freephone number, which lists candidates in alphabetical order for each electoral area.

Voters with a vision impairment will be permitted to call the number when they go to cast their ballots.

They are then given an option to select the electoral area in which they are registered to vote, after which a recorded announcement lists each candidate, their political affiliation and their occupation.

The user then uses a ballot template - a transparent plastic device placed on top of the ballot paper - to indicate their voting preferences in order of choice.

Square windows are cut into the template that align with the voting box areas on the ballot paper that enable the voter to mark the ballot paper at the correct position.

Vision-impaired voters can use the freephone facility as often as they wish in the run-up to polling day to familiarise themselves with the arrangements and to firm up their voting intentions.

Those with mobile phones will also be allowed to access the freephone information on polling day in the polling centres if they so choose.

Vision impaired voters will also continue to have the option of marking their ballot papers with the assistance of a companion or Presiding Officer, as provided for in the Electoral Acts, at all elections and referendums.

Ballot paper templates were used for the first time at polling stations last year, when the referendum on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution was held.