There are over a million people in the UK who have a learning disability and can vote but don’t – not because they don’t want to but because the system excludes them. I have a learning disability and I have friends with learning disabilities who have been turned away from polling stations.
Access to voting for people with a learning disability is hard. And if you don't have the tools to vote, then how can you? The form to register is not accessible at all, manifestos are very difficult to read and it’s hard to get the support to speak to local candidates. I know people who haven't voted because they just can’t get through the political jargon and worry about spending hours trying to register to vote, only to find out at the polling station that you did it wrong.
It’s not just me; research into the 2014 local elections showed that 70 per cent of people with a learning disability wanted to vote, but 64 per cent didn’t and one in five were actually turned away from polling stations.
A million voters without accessibility to vote is a scandal and I know that this wouldn’t be happening to another group. People with a learning disability are the first to be hit by government cuts but the last to be listened to. This can never change until we have access to our vote.
I’m worried that this election our vote is more at risk than ever. The election was called so quickly that campaigners and charities just don’t have the time to set up things like local disability hustings. These were really needed to make sure people with a learning disability have access to the election.
Everyone has the right to vote. It’s what makes you a member of society and it’s a right that people with a learning disability have had to fight for. Losing the disability vote would be a very sad electoral loss. Our voice is as important as everyone else’s and with a million votes at stake, the major parties should be fighting to hear us.
Luckily for them I know that if parties take just a few simple steps then our vote can be saved and this election can be open to everyone.
Easy Read Manifestos
Easy read is a way of writing that is easier to understand for people with a learning disability; using pictures, larger fonts and simple words. Having an easy read manifesto is a basic thing for parties to do. They already translate manifestos into Welsh, so it’s only doing one more translation. This election both charities and myself have already written to the major parties asking them to do this, but we still don’t know if they will. If they don’t listen, then they’ll be excluding a huge group of people from voting before the polls are even open.
Making sure all manifestos come out at the same time
All parties have to make sure the easy read manifesto comes out at the same time as the manifesto. It sounds obvious, but during the referendum both Leave and Remain campaigns only put out the easy read manifesto a few days before the vote. That’s not OK. People with a learning disability need the same, if not more, time as anybody else to read, understand and think about what the parties are saying. This could have lost a lot of votes during the referendum and it can’t happen again.
Meet people with a learning disability
Last election, there were over 60 hustings-style Q&A events around the UK for people with a learning disability. These hustings made sure people like me had our voices heard. Sadly, there isn’t enough time to organise as many events this election, but that doesn’t mean our voice shouldn’t be heard. Parties must call on their candidates to speak to people with a disability in their local area and arrange meetings with local groups.
These may seem like really basic things, but they make a huge difference for people with a learning disability. We’re not asking for a lot. We’re asking for parties to respect that we have the same right to vote as everyone else; to speak to us and make sure we get information at the same time as the rest of the country. If parties can’t manage this, then what does that say about their ability to lead the country and make sure disabled people’s rights are protected?
Ismail Kaji is Mencap’s Parliamentary Affairs Support Officer. You can find out more about his campaign for accessibility here
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