Empower people with additional needs to vote, says Dimensions UK

May 5, 2021

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.

Some of the other key findings include:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.’

So how do we fix the problem? Dr Mark Brookes MBE adds, ‘Firstly, it is important to raise awareness of these misconceptions to those with additional needs and understanding the empowering experiences of individuals who have exercised their right to vote can play an important part in this. A particular story that comes to mind is that of James. James is 22 years old and has a severe learning disability. Despite this, he has been a passionate voter since he was 18. He is able to do this with the help of eye-gaze technology which allows him to communicate who he wants to vote for to his mother, Gina, through sight rather than speech. James is an inspiring example of what can be achieved when the correct support is provided and testament to the fact that everyone can have their voice heard.

Concluding on the importance of voting, Dr Mark Brookes MBE, said, ‘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.’

Visit the Dimensions website for information about the Voting Passport.

Michael Fullerton, Director of Health and Wellbeing at Achieve together, says now is the time to empower, not marginalise, people with learning disabilities.


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