Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Vital to ensure those with learning disabilities express their views at the ballot box

Sandie Foxhall-Smith RegardIn this guest blog, Sandie Foxall-Smith, chief executive officer of Regard Group, outlines why she believes awareness of political issues should be part of daily life for people with learning disabilities.

Amid all the facts and figures that have been debated in the run-up to the general election, there is one statistic I have found particularly worrying: only a third of people with a learning disability in the UK vote at elections.

This statistic, from charity Mencap, is troubling as it shows the majority of a group of people who need support in their daily lives are not having their say on political issues which directly affect them.

These people often rely upon the government more than others, as their daily lives involve accessing the healthcare and benefits systems.

So what can be done to make sure more of their voices are heard?

At Regard Group, which specialises in caring for people with learning disabilities, acquired brain injuries and mental health needs, we are working to make people with learning disabilities aware of their legal right to vote, and to address practicalities such as registering to vote.

In addition to sorting out fundamental matters such as ensuring our service users are on the electoral register, we also provide practical assistance such as transporting people to their local polling stations, or accompanying those who need support.

We also ensure those we care for know what to expect when they arrive to cast their vote, and what they will need to do when they go into the voting booth.

However, I believe that some our most important work is undertaken away from the political focus of election time.

In the same way that Regard Group staff enable people to live independently and to feel confident in routine tasks ranging from cooking to travelling by bus, so we make sure they feel confident in their understanding of political issues.

On a daily basis, we prompt them to talk about current affairs and political topics so they can appreciate how political matters affect them and can formulate their own opinions on the positions of the different parties.

Our focus is always to provide a pathway to enable those with learning disabilities be valued members of their communities and play a full part in it.

We seek to empower by getting them to do as much as they possibly can, and I believe an important aspect of that empowerment is the knowledge that they have the right to vote.

The fact people with learning disabilities can join with other voters in placing their selection for a candidate in a ballot box means they can have their say on issues that affect their daily lives and their futures.

It is also a powerful way in which they can help to break down social attitudes towards learning disabilities, by showing other voters they have a right to vote and to have their say in choosing the government.

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