People with a learning disability have a passion for politics, but face exclusion

10/20/2014
Photo: Voting box

The culture of inaccessible politics has discouraged many people with a learning disability from voting; © James Steidl/panthermedia.net

In a new survey, Mencap reveals that people with a learning disability have a political appetite and want to vote, but many are excluded from the process and aren’t able to exercise their democratic right.

70 percent of people with a learning disability said that they want to vote in the future, bucking the trend of a somewhat apathetic general public, of which 55 percent say they are not very, or at all, interested in politics.

Yet, despite their appetite for politics, people with a learning disability face many barriers when it comes to registering to vote, deciding who they want to vote for and casting their vote. Indeed, 64 percent of people with a learning disability surveyed did not vote in the recent local elections because:
• 17 percent said they were turned away at the polling station because they had a learning disability
• 60 percent said that registering to vote was too hard
• 56 percent said they didn’t want to vote for any of the political parties

This culture of inaccessible politics has discouraged many people with a learning disability from voting. People like 35-year-old Sarah from Minehead, Somerset: "I haven't voted before because I didn't have enough information about the different parties. When I listen to them speak, I don't understand what they are talking about. Politicians use really complicated language. I want to vote in the future, but I need more accessible information so that I am more informed and can then choose who I want to vote for."

Mencap young ambassador Vijay is 27 years old and lives in Hendon. He feels excluded from politics because of the complex language that politicians use: "I wasn't sure who to vote for as all of the parties are against each another and use big words with lots of jargon. The government needs to make sure their information and policies are in easy read for people. Without the easy read versions, I don’t understand what the politicians are talking about."

This survey comes in the midst of Mencap’s Hear my voice campaign, which aims to ensure the next Government addresses the discrimination faced by people with a learning disability and their families by helping them make their voices heard.

This discrimination includes a prosecution rate of just 1 percent for people who commit disability hate crimes; and 1,200 people with a learning disability dying avoidably in the NHS every year due to poor healthcare and institutionalised discrimination.

An opinion poll carried out by Populus for the Hear my voice campaign showed that 90 percent the general public thought the next government, who is elected in May 2015, should actively take steps to tackle this discrimination.

"It is really important for people with a learning disability to have a voice in politics, so that they have an opportunity to shape the policies that directly impact their lives. They have the same right to vote as anybody else, yet our survey shows that people with a learning disability are clearly being denied this right by a system that excludes them," said Rossanna Trudgian, head of campaigns and activism for Mencap. "Not only is the system inaccessible, but politics is also plagued with discriminatory attitudes. In the recent local elections, it was reported that a Councillor in Manchester said that people with a learning disability 'shouldn’t be voting'. If this wasn’t awful enough, almost 1 in 5 of the people who we spoke to, who did not vote in the recent local elections, were turned away from the polling station because they had a learning disability. This is unacceptable in 21st century Britain. We must urgently tackle this culture of inaccessible and discriminatory politics."

Following a grant by the Cabinet Office, Mencap has developed a range of easy read guides to tell people with a learning disability, their families and carers everything they need to know about voting, registering to vote and supporting someone else to vote.

Ismail Kaji, parliamentary affairs assistant for Mencap, has a learning disability. He explains how difficult it was to understand his voter registration form: "It was very complicated to fill in. I did not know what I had to do. The information that explained the forms was not clear. The form had too many boxes and difficult words. There was not enough room in the form to write information. It made me feel excluded. Hopefully these new easy read guides will make sure other people with a learning disability don’t have to go through the same confusing experiences that I did."

REHACARE.de; Source: Mencap

More about Mencap at: www.mencap.org.uk