votingMany people with a learning disability have an interest in politics and want to vote, but a significant percentage feel excluded from the process and so aren’t able to exercise their democratic right, a survey has found.

The survey by Mencap found that while 70% of people with a learning disability said that they want to vote in the future – compared to 55% of the general public saying they are not very, or at all, interested in politics – many find that the political system puts them off.

Of those surveyed, 64% didn’t vote in the recent local elections. Shockingly, 17% of those didn’t vote because they were turned away from the polling station. In addition, 60% said that registering to vote was too hard and 56% said they didn’t want to vote for any of the political parties.

The survey forms part of Mencap’s Hear my voice campaign, which aims to ensure the next Government addresses the discrimination faced by people with a learning disability and their families by helping them make their voices heard.

Excluded by language

Some noted that politicians use jargon, which makes their messages difficult to understand. For instance, Mencap young ambassador Vijay said he feels excluded from politics for this reason. “I wasn't sure who to vote for as all of the parties are against each another and use big words with lots of jargon,” he said. “The government needs to make sure their information and policies are in easy read for people. Without the easy read versions, I don’t understand what the politicians are talking about.”

Sarah, aged 35, from Minehead, Somerset, agreed: "I haven't voted before because I didn't have enough information about the different parties,” she said. “When I listen to them speak, I don't understand what they are talking about. I want to vote in the future, but I need more accessible information so that I am more informed and can then choose who I want to vote for."

Following a grant by the Cabinet Office, Mencap has developed a range of easy read guides to tell people with a learning disability, their families and carers everything they need to know about voting, registering to vote and supporting someone else to vote. Go to www.mencap.org.uk/allaboutvoting for more information.

Ismail Kaji, parliamentary affairs assistant for Mencap, has a learning disability. He found it difficult to understand his voter registration form: “It was very complicated to fill in. I did not know what I had to do. The information that explained the forms was not clear. The form had too many boxes and difficult words. There was not enough room in the form to write information. It made me feel excluded. Hopefully these new easy read guides will make sure other people with a learning disability don’t have to go through the same confusing experiences that I did.”

Giving people with a learning disability a voice

Rossanna Trudgian, head of campaigns and activism for Mencap, said: “It is really important for people with a learning disability to have a voice in politics, so that they have an opportunity to shape the policies that directly impact their lives. They have the same right to vote as anybody else, yet our survey shows that people with a learning disability are clearly being denied this right by a system that excludes them.

“Not only is the system inaccessible, but politics is also plagued with discriminatory attitudes. In the recent local elections, it was reported that a councillor in Manchester said that people with a learning disability ‘shouldn’t be voting’. If this wasn’t awful enough, almost 1 in 5 of the people who we spoke to, who did not vote in the recent local elections, were turned away from the polling station because they had a learning disability. This is unacceptable in 21st century Britain. We must urgently tackle this culture of inaccessible and discriminatory politics.”