How support workers can help people with learning disabilities to vote

Eight practical tips for support staff that came out of workshops with people with learning disabilities

Picture: General images/Rex
Picture: General images/Rex

By Kayley Worsley, learning disability provider Dimensions 

The Love Your Vote campaign that Dimensions is running with the parliamentary outreach service aims to raise awareness of voting and the political process among people with learning disabilities. Initially, we anticipated running workshops solely aimed at people with learning disabilities, yet it became clear that support workers needed information too.

Here are eight practical messages that came out of our workshops to inform and educate support workers on how they can help people with learning disabilities engage in the voting process:

  1. Everybody with a learning disability can register to vote. There is a common misconception that there are capacity issues, but this is not the case when it comes to registering. Support providers can discuss with the people they support if they want to vote or not; it is about ensuring they have the opportunity to make an informed choice.
  2. People who are non-verbal can vote. Often support workers worry that people who can’t communicate verbally are not able to cast their vote. Support workers need to deliver truly person-centred support in order to ascertain whether a person does want to vote, through their own communication tools. Perhaps a postal vote would suit them better?
  3. Preparation is key. People with learning disabilities need as much planning and preparation for activities as possible. Practical elements like planning into their support time opportunities to register to vote will help to enable people to be engaged in having their voice heard.
  4. There is a danger that a disinterest in politics by support workers can transfer onto the people they support with learning disabilities. Therefore, ensure that people being supported do have plenty of chance to look at leaflets – don’t just throw these away when they arrive in the post. Instead, give the people with learning disabilities the choice whether to keep them or not.
  5. Shift patterns should be altered to enable people to be supported appropriately through the election period; plan rotas ahead. Often support workers on a rota get into weekly/daily routines and support more than one person, so research where the nearest polling station is, opening times and the practicalities how the people they support can be supported there on election day – for example which bus to catch or who is driving.
  6. If a particular support worker does have an interest or knowledge around politics and voting, plan to get them on shifts when pertinent election or voting events are scheduled. It is also an idea to hold a mock voting day in a service, with ballot papers and boxes, so the election day process feels more familiar. Make such work part of their work reviews to really embed the importance of it.
  7. Enabling people to vote does not mean that you are influencing their political choice. There is a common misconception that supporting people to vote can intrude on their political choices. This process is about enabling people with learning disabilities to make a choice and to whether they vote; not about which party or person they cast a vote for.
  8. Speak to the returning officers on election day about how they advise you to support people to the booths. Make clear that you are a support worker and they will give guidance.
  9. *This article was amended at 10.30am on 24 September to remove a reference in the second point to people who are non-verbal being able to vote “so long as they have the mental capacity to do so”.

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One Response to How support workers can help people with learning disabilities to vote

  1. Suzanne Jones September 24, 2014 at 12:27 pm #

    How would a support worker engage someone with severe learning disabilities, in the political process?