A survey commissioned to mark the Local Elections by Dimensions UK, one of the largest not-for-profit providers of support for people with learning disabilities, autism and complex needs, sheds new light on the voting experiences of people with learning difficulties.
Launched as part of Dimensions’ Love Your Vote campaign, which aims to empower people with a learning disability, autism or complex needs to participate in voting, the survey revealed that over a quarter (27%) of respondents – including people with a learning disability, their families and support workers – did not know that all people with a learning disability have a legal right to vote in elections.
Just 34% of respondents to Dimensions’ survey knew that people who lack mental capacity have the same right to vote in elections. In fact, people who meet other registration qualifications are eligible to vote regardless of their mental capacity, according to Section 5(6) of the Representation of the People Act (RPA) 1983. Crucially, the decision about how to vote must be made by the elector and those who care for or might otherwise make decisions on their behalf cannot make decisions about voting.
Dimensions’ survey additionally revealed that 82% of people do not feel the Government listens to people with learning disabilities as much as it listens to other people, while 76% of respondents found easy-read manifestos hard to find.
Further, 80% of people felt that polling stations were difficult to use for those with a learning disability, with 61% of people also reporting that polling station staff did not always make reasonable adjustments, which people are legally entitled to when voting.
The findings suggest that common misconceptions, including people with learning difficulties not being aware of their right to vote and longstanding hurdles to accessibility, must be overcome to make voting a more empowering experience for those with learning difficulties or additional needs. Making easy read voting resources more readily available, improving the accessibility of polling stations and ensuring every person understands that reasonable adjustments are available when voting could help to achieve this.
Dr Mark Brookes MBE, Advocacy Lead at Dimensions UK, said: “For many adults in the UK, voting will feel like second nature. I voted for the first time 10-15 years ago, having been unaware of my right to vote until then, and know that, as someone with a learning disability, voting isn’t always that simple.
“However, having a learning disability is absolutely not a barrier to voting and easy-read resources such as Dimensions’ Voting Passport are available to help you communicate any adjustments you might need. I hope everyone with a learning difficulty knows their voice is powerful and can be proud of casting their vote this year.”
Steve Scown, Chief Executive of Dimensions UK, said: “This research sheds new light on the importance of initiatives such as Dimensions’ Love Your Vote campaign and the small steps that could address longstanding barriers to improve the inclusivity of voting. Everyone with a learning disability and/or autism has a right to vote, with reasonable adjustments made available to support them. Everyone should have their voice heard in the Local Elections this year.”