Up and down the country, people in the UK are taking the opportunity to cast their vote in both the European and local elections.  While many people with learning disabilities are keen to have their say, they often face barriers to getting their views heard. 

Over the next year, United Response will be working alongside other organisations as part of our Every Vote Counts campaign to encourage people with learning disabilities to vote.

Stage one in our election plan is about beginning the conversation and identifying the barriers people might face when voting.  So what are the barriers people might face and how could they be overcome?

1.    People with learning disabilities have told us that without accessible information about politics, they find it difficult to know how it makes a difference to them

We developed Easy News, the UK’s first accessible news magazine for people with learning disabilities, which explains big news stories with easy to understand text and images.  By providing accessible information, we have enabled people with learning disabilities to form their own opinions and make their own decisions and choices.  One reader told us, “I like Easy News a lot.  It is so straight forward without other people’s political views 'colouring' the news.  Many newspapers seem to have political leanings and I need to make up my own mind, not just agree with what somebody else said."

2.    People with learning disabilities have also told us that they need accessible information about how the voting process works and the parties they’re voting for

As part of our Every Vote Counts campaign, we created guides which explained how to vote and get involved in politics.  We also created a guide for politicians which showed how to make their election information accessible to people with learning disabilities.  We will be producing updated resources shortly.  Our campaigning resulted in all three main political parties producing accessible manifestos for the first time ever in the 2010 General Election.  We hope that they will continue their commitment to accessibility by producing easy read manifestos in 2015.

3.    Some people said that they didn’t think they were allowed to vote because of their learning disability

Our research for Every Vote Counts found that some people were being denied the right to vote because there were uncertainties about whether they had the ability or capacity to vote.  Under the Mental Capacity Act’s code of practice, it should always be assumed that someone has capacity to make a decision, unless it has been proved otherwise.  This means that if someone has the ability to choose between candidates and understand that they are picking a political representative, they can vote.  How they make that choice and what criteria they use is entirely up to them.

These examples are particularly relevant to the people that United Response supports, but they may also apply to other groups of people.  Why not send us an email or comment below telling us how you’re helping people to overcome their barriers to voting?  We’d love to feature your stories in our next Every Vote Counts newsletter.

Rachel Bowen, campaigns officer.