Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Our Future - Why Voting Matters

Earlier this week the report 'Our Future' compiled by United Response's campaign panel, made up of people with learning disabilities and their families was published. I was honoured to be asked to write the afterword by United Response, which is reproduced below. Watching the coverage of the American presidential election I'd noted the Obama campaign worked on some basic key principles, getting people out to use their vote, often using social media in a way our British politicians have never quite got to grips with. People with learning disabilities are probably the most disadvantaged and least likely to vote in our political systems, which allows their needs and priorities to be ignored by politicians who concentrate on polls, focus groups and which particular group of people might vote for their particular policies. Many people just assume that those with learning disabilities cannot vote, but this is absolutely not the case, legally anyone deemed to have capacity can vote, and with appropriate information and support many people with learning disabilities would want to do so. Whilst its important that politicians understand the power and volume of the disability vote, its unlikely they will ever do so if we as disabled people do not lead the way and demonstrate our engagement and ability to vote.

"After many positive recommendations on social care in the Dilnot Report it is disheartening for
disabled people to hear the Chancellor George Osborne suggesting its implementation will be
delayed due to the economic crisis. Disabled people living independent lives and being fully consulted
on policy making is central to making rights a reality, and the fears that disabled people have about
not being heard are central to both this latest report from United Response and our futures.

Very few people with a learning disability use their ability
to influence politics by using their right to vote; this can
be due to inaccessible processes, a lack of understandable
political information and a fear of influencing the
individual’s choice of vote by those supporting disabled
people. These barriers must be overcome so that all
disabled people can exercise their right to participate
in the democratic process in an accessible manner.

Easy Read information about politics is vital and
something simple that charities and disabled people
can campaign to have provided by every political party.
Easy Read information is not just of benefit to disabled
people, but really important for politicians; if politicians
cannot translate their language into that of Easy
Read then they probably do not understand what
they are saying very well.
Ensuring that accessible
information is provided by every political party is also a
good way of addressing concerns about bias; that way
support workers can provide detail on all the options and
ensure people with learning disabilities can make their
own, fully informed choice when it is time to vote.

The most common complaint from disabled people in
relation to politics is that our voices are not being heard,
particularly the voices of those with learning disabilities.
Ensuring that people with learning disabilities are
supported to attend policy meetings, select committees
and party conferences to speak directly for themselves is
also another simple idea which would have a powerful
impact on policy makers by making impersonal policy
plans come to life through the lived experience of those
the policies are designed for. It would also show politicians
that people with learning disabilities are as important a
group as ‘netmums’ or ‘white van man’ to be considered
when thinking about how voters will respond.

Disability is at the heart of all our lives as individuals
or as society,
whether it comes to us at the beginning,
middle or towards the end of life, in some way shape
and form we will all become reliant on the support
of others. The right to live independent and fully
participating lives benefits us all, but until disabled
people’s voices are heard at every level of politics and
policy making, we will not feel the positive influence
disabled people have on every area of all our lives.

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