This week is an exciting moment. As the Local Elections approach on Thursday, I’ve been reflecting on my right to vote, and the importance of empowering every person with a learning disability, autism or complex needs to feel confident and proud when casting their ballot on polling day.
For many people, heading out to vote on 6th May will feel like second nature. After all, the idea that every eligible person can make their voice heard in the polling both is a pretty simple one – and it should be. Yet, as someone with a learning disability, I know that it won’t always be this simple for everyone.
Your right to vote
In my own life, I haven’t always been aware of my right to vote, and it was only 10—15 years ago that I voted for the first time. This year, I’m proud to be serving as an official election observer at my local polling station, ensuring that polling staff understand how to make reasonable adjustments, which every voter is entitled to, and that voting is both an accessible and empowering experience for everyone.
For some people with a learning disability, not knowing they have a right to vote has prevented them from participating in elections. In fact, in research completed this year by Dimensions as part of its Love Your Vote campaign, almost a fifth of people were unsure of whether those with a learning disability had a right to do so. But the truth is that everyone has a right to vote and no one should be held back by the misconception that they can’t.
I cannot stress enough that having a learning disability is not a barrier to being able to vote. In my role as Advocacy Lead at Dimensions, I know many people with a learning disability or complex needs who have shared their stories of voting, and one story that stays with me is that of James – a 22-year-old man who has voted since he turned 18. James casts his vote verbally using eye-gaze technology and describes participating in voting as part of what makes him who he is.
I also know of people who have become active local members of the political party they support, and even people who have voted for the first time later in life, having been unaware of their right to do so until then. Barbara, a wonderful woman supported by Dimensions – whose journey to political engagement continues to inspire people – voted for the first time at the age of 83.
Voting is one of the most powerful ways of raising your voice and expressing your views. However, in Dimensions’ recent survey, 80% of respondents reported that polling stations could be difficult to use for people with a learning disability, while 61% of people felt polling station staff do not always make reasonable adjustments.
Making voting accessible
Everyone is entitled to reasonable adjustments that make voting accessible for them. Like me, James will be volunteering as an observer at his local polling station, not only participating in voting, but helping to improve this experience for everyone by ensuring that staff understand and can provide the adaptions people need. Free, easy-read resources are also available, including Dimensions’ Voting Passport, which can help people to communicate the reasonable adjustments they require, such as taking a carer into the polling booth or voting verbally, as James does.
For me, one of the most striking findings of Dimensions’ research was the fact that 82% of people believe the Government doesn’t listen as much to individuals with learning disabilities. But, this election season, we can make sure that everyone hears one crucial message: that every person with learning disabilities, autism or complex needs has a right to vote, that support is available to make voting accessible, and that their voice is powerful – let’s make sure it’s heard.