Last Thursday we published our report on accessibility, ‘Elections for everyone’. The feedback we received from disabled voters about their experiences at the UK Parliament elections made it clear that something needs to be done, and governments, electoral staff, candidates and parties, and the Commission all have a role to play in this.
We have been working with ENABLE Scotland for a number of years, to ensure that both the voting process and information about how to register and vote are accessible for people with learning disabilities.
ENABLE Scotland provides a wide range of support services for people who have learning disabilities and their families in Scotland. Together with their 5,000 members, they campaign for an equal society for every person who has a learning disability.
We will continue to work with partner organisations, like ENABLE Scotland, to help us fully understand the needs of voters with disabilities and make sure that elections are truly accessible for all.
Read ENABLE Scotland’s Executive Director of External Affairs & Strategic Development, Jan Savage’s blog on the importance of accessible elections:
At ENABLE Scotland we believe in, and work for, and equal society for every person who has a learning disability. But being part of an equal society means having a say in how the country in which you live is run.
Last year, statistics revealed that, on average, only 30 percent of people who have a learning disability vote in elections. In contrast, 70 percent of people who have a learning disability said they wanted to vote, but 60 percent said they found the process too difficult.
It wasn’t just the numbers telling a powerful story. You only needed to attend one of our local ACE Group meetings, where our members meet to talk about important topics such as welfare reforms and employability, to know that people who have learning disabilities have a lot to say about the issues and decisions that affect them.
We just had to help make their voices heard. We had to #ENABLEtheVote.
The #ENABLEtheVote campaign
First launched in the build-up to the 2016 Scottish Parliamentary Elections, our #ENABLEtheVote campaign set out to make the voting process and politicians much more accessible to people who have a learning disability.
The first step in the process was connecting people with their local politicians, so that they could quiz their potential representatives on the issues that mattered most to them. More than 200 people attended our accessible hustings events across Scotland, bringing their own questions on issues such as social care, employment, transport, accessibility, social security and much more.
But we had to amplify the message to more than just the attendees of our hustings. Together with our members, we campaigned for all political parties to make their manifestos available in Easy Read format, so that as many people as possible could access and understand what each party was promising. The result was a landmark success, with 4 out of the 5 main political parties producing easy read manifestos for the first time!
The final critical piece on the campaign trail was to make the voting process itself much more accessible. For this, we partnered with the Electoral Commission to produce a range of accessible voting guides to support people who have a learning disability, and their families and carers, through the voting process. These resources had a tremendous impact and the final result was much more than a marginal gain – with 80% of people who have a learning disability that participated in #ENABLEtheVote using their ballot on election day.
Our shared success
The campaign’s success continued into 2017 in the build up to the Local Council Elections. In addition to delivering an increased number of accessible hustings events – 18 in total – and a suite of new Easy Read materials, we collaborated with our members to develop a manifesto which outlined how prospective councillors could #BeTheChange for people who have learning disabilities. Politicians across the political spectrum pledged their support for our members’ manifesto and 91% of the people who have a learning disability that took part in the campaign used their vote in the Local Council Elections.
The voices of our members and supporters who participated in #ENABLEtheVote have gone on to contribute to national debate at the highest level, with their MSPs directly raising issues identified by them in the Scottish Parliament. Only last week during a crucial debate on inclusive education, MSPs paid tribute to our members for bring this issue to their attention during local meetings.
The #ENABLEtheVote campaign won’t stop there. You only have to look at the news to see how increasingly complex the UK political landscape has become. In the days of ‘fake news’ and challenging economic outlooks, we must continue to focus our efforts on removing any barriers that prevent people who have a learning disability or any other support need from engaging in the voting process. After all, our political leaders are here to represent everyone. Every individual with a ballot paper should have the opportunity to make an informed choice about the future of their society on polling day.