By Tracey Garcia, involvement and engagement manager, Dimensions
With turnout likely to be a critical factor in this week’s general election, it is vital that every adult is given the opportunity to exercise their right to vote.
However, in previous elections, many people with learning disabilities or autism have found this right denied to them because polling staff have not made the reasonable adjustments required of them by law.
To help overcome this, learning disability support provider Dimensions has created a ‘voting passport’, a free-to-download document to help polling stations become more accessible to people with learning disabilities and autism.
A voting passport is an easyread A4 sheet of paper printed with information about the individuals’ voting needs. It is designed to be handed to polling staff so they easily can understand the reasonable adjustments needed to enable the person to vote.
We developed the passport following feedback from people we support. These include Jordan, who has mild learning disabilities and cerebral palsy. In one election, he went to his local polling station with a family member to support him to read the candidates’ names, and other information within the polling station and booth.
The presiding officer, who is responsible for the conduct of the ballot within the polling station, said that his family member wasn’t allowed to come in and caused such a scene that Jordan’s anxiety levels grew to a level where the only option was for him to leave. As a result, he never got to cast his vote in the election.
The voting passport is designed to prevent this from happening. It includes an “about me” section with the person’s name and a list of things they need to help them to vote, for example that they need to stay with their support worker or avoid waiting in long queues.
It also allows them to write who they would like support from, their supporter’s name and whether the supporter is eligible to vote in the UK or not. If the supporter is not eligible to vote in the UK then they will need to work with the presiding officer to support the person to vote.
Debunking myths around capacity
The back of the voting passport contains information on the law in order to debunk the myth a person can be prevented from voting on the grounds of a lack of mental capacity. This is untrue. Section 73 of the Electoral Administration Act 2006 abolished any common law rule that prohibited a person from voting by reason of their mental state.
It also sets out what can and cannot be done for the person. Another person may explain the ballot options to the person with learning disabilities or autism, use knowledge of their communication methods to understand who they want to vote for, come into the polling booth with them and mark the ballot paper with their decision. But the other person may not make a decision for the person with learning disabilities or autism, mark the ballot paper against their wishes or stop them from voting.
It’s important to know that the polling station and presiding officer have to make these reasonable adjustments by law. People voting and those supporting them have every right to ask for them and should stand firm if anyone says otherwise.
People who haven’t voted before will probably benefit from being talked through the process of going to a polling station and thinking of any similar situations – for example, waiting in a queue, reading something, making a decision – to decide about reasonable adjustments and the support that they want.
The voting passport can be downloaded from the Dimensions website. We would encourage people with learning disabilities or autism – and their friends and family or support workers – to make use of the voting passport so that their voice can be heard in shaping the future of the country.