In this guest blog, to coincide with the launch of the ‘Hear my voice’ campaign, Mencap’s Jan Tregelles explains how important it is for people with learning disabilities to vote in elections:
There are 1.4 million people with a learning disability in the UK. They are the experts when it comes to the issues that impact on their lives. For example, Lloyd experienced poor care when he was in hospital, Richard was a victim of disability hate crime when he was walking to his local day centre with his fiancé, and Danny got badly bullied when he was at school. These individuals know what needs to happen in order to make their lives better. They know the importance of their vote.
Unfortunately, many people with a learning disability don’t think that voting will affect their lives or make any difference. They tell us that they feel excluded and disengaged from politics. In fact, the majority of people with a learning disability didn’t vote in the last general election.
The way politicians communicate can be complicated and ridden with jargon, some of which even the most hardened parliamentary followers are confused by. What’s more, people with a learning disability tell us they don’t think politicians understand what a learning disability is and the impact it can have on an individual’s life. Indeed, only last week during the local elections, a councillor in Trafford was accused of telling a local person with a learning disability that they “shouldn’t be voting”.
As my colleague Ciara Lawrence, who has a learning disability, said: "I have a right to vote and have my voice heard on things that matter to me, just like everyone else does. That is my right and I won't be denied it.”
Many decisions made by the Government have a huge impact on the lives of people with a learning disability, from education to health, and transport to social care. But in order to influence these decisions, we – the learning disability community – need to tackle this culture of inaccessible politics and get our voices heard.
This is where Mencap’s ‘Hear my voice’ campaign comes in. It will provide a platform for people with a learning disability, their families, friends and campaigners to make their voices heard by politicians. Their voices, from all corners of the UK, will unite to ensure that the next Government addresses the key issues facing people with a learning disability and their families.
There are a lot of different ways to get involved, from sharing what matters to you, to holding an event to get people with a learning disability registered to vote.
People with a learning disability and their families have achieved great things over the past 70 years, but we still have a long way to go until they are treated the same as everyone else, valued equally, listened to and fully included in society. Many of our hard-won achievements are unstable in today’s political and economic climate, where fights are won today only to be fought again tomorrow.
We have to make sure the next Government makes a lasting difference to the lives of every person with a learning disability and their families. To do this, we need to make sure the learning disability community’s voice is heard – loud and clear. When Mencap was founded in 1946, almost 300 campaigning voices were able to influence huge changes for people with a learning disability. We now have millions of voices, so imagine the difference we can make together.