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Supporting someone with a learning disability or autism to vote – our top tips

The EU Referendum will take place on Thursday 23 June and we want people with learning disabilities and autism to vote and get their voice heard.

Support Workers, paid and unpaid carers all have the opportunity to help make politics more accessible for people with learning disabilities and autism.

Our Love Your Vote campaign continues to work with politicians, government and the public to improve democracy for disabled people.

In post media small Barbara voting
Barbara thought she couldn’t vote because of her learning disability. She voted for the first time in the 2015 General Election.

Here’s how you can help and support someone to vote.

Preparing to vote

Do you want to vote?

Talk to the people you support and find out if they are interested in voting. Explain what it means, what you can do to support them and help make it inclusive and interesting.

Make sure they are registered to vote before Tuesday 7th June. It’s easy to register online and you can support them to do so. Have their National Insurance number to hand and visit to register online.

What should I vote for?

The people you support need to decide whether they want to vote to leave the EU, or stay in the EU.

It’s important to research the pros and cons of both, so they can fully understand the options available and make an informed decision.

These three resources can help you get a head start:

When you have the information available, discuss it with the person you support. Make sure you stay impartial (regardless of your political views) and offer the points, for and against leaving, in a structured way.

There is a danger that disinterest in politics by Support Workers and carers can transfer to the people they support. Everyone should be able to decide if they want to vote, so try to keep your opinions out of the process.

If you’re worried you don’t understand enough about the referendum or voting, perhaps there are other support workers, friends or family that might be able to give you advice.

You could even hold a mock voting day, with ballot papers and boxes, so the election day process feels more familiar.

Create a ‘buzz’ about election day

Talking about and preparing before the day can help make it less intimidating and even exciting. Plan a trip to celebrate voting, like going for a treat at a café, or get involved on social media sharing and talking about other people’s experiences.

If the people you support want to share their story on social media make sure you have consent. You are not allowed to take photos inside the polling station, but you can take one outside.

Juliet, Rebecca and Joanna went to their polling station together.

Remember to include #LoveYourVote or tag @DimensionsUK so we can see all your great stories on Facebook and Twitter.

Sharing our stories can also encourage other people to vote. The more people with learning disabilities that vote, along with their families and friends, increases the voice of this community. Let’s make the issues and concerns well known and make them higher priority amongst politicians.

Support planning

Adding registering to vote, and voting on the day, into support plans will make the process smoother.

If a particular Support Worker has an interest or knowledge around politics and voting, plan to get them on shifts so they can talk to people they support in a non-partisan and impartial manner about voting.

Often support workers on a rota get into weekly/daily routines and support more than one person, so research:

  • where the nearest polling station is
  • opening times
  • practicalities of how people you support can be supported to travel there on election day.

Make sure you have considered shift patterns and altered them if necessary, to enable people to be supported appropriately through the election period.

Know Your Rights

There are a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings around learning disabilities and voting. Make sure you go to vote armed with the facts, and know the rights of the people you support as well as yours as a support worker.

Everybody with a learning disability can register to vote

There is a common misconception that there are issues around capacity, but this is not the case. Everybody who has a learning disability or autism can register to vote and has the right to vote.

However nobody can vote on their behalf, unless they have capacity to formally nominate a proxy vote. The deadline for registering to vote by proxy is Wednesday 15th June. Find out more at About My Vote.

Please speak to the Electoral Commission before heading to the polling station to find out more about adjustments for supporting someone to vote.

People who are non-verbal can vote

Often Support Workers and carers worry that people who can’t communicate verbally are not able to cast their vote.

An independent adjudicator helped Barry vote by reading candidate names. He nodded at his choice to vote.

Support Workers and carers need to deliver person-centred support in order to ascertain whether a person does want to vote, through their own communication tools.

Working together with the person you support, you can both decide which form of voting may suit them better, and make sure you know what you can and can’t do in the polling booth to help them.

If you face challenges and are not able to support someone in the way you want to, ring the electoral commission hotline number on 0333 103 1928, where someone will be able to help you.

Postal voting

If the person you support doesn’t want to go to the polling station, they can apply for the postal vote.

They will need to be registered to vote by the Tuesday 7th June deadline, and the postal vote application needs completing by 5pm on Wednesday 8th June. Find out more at About My Vote.

Postal voting can be a great option for people, but it should be just that; a choice. If the local polling station is not accessible for the person you support, complain to the Electoral Commission.

You can still choose to take your postal vote in on election day, as long as you take it in before 10am. This could give the person you support the benefits of a postal vote, as well as the experience of ‘going to the polls’ on the day.

If you support someone who struggles with noise or crowds, a postal vote might be suitable for them and make it easier for them to vote. It also gives you more time to go over the process and take a break.

“Using the postal vote was very easy and I can do it in my own time and in my own home.” Andrew

Supporting someone with disabilities to vote at the polling station

Enabling people to cast their vote does not mean that you are influencing their political choice. There is a common misconception that supporting people to vote can intrude on their political choices.

The supported voting process is about enabling people with learning disabilities and autism to make a choice as to whether or not they vote; not about which party or person they cast a vote for.

Paul supported Gordon and Graham to vote in the 2015 General Election. He says: “You can go into the polling booth with an individual and support them to vote. You can read the voting slip and mark it for them once they have shown you who to vote for. Polling staff can be very wary of allowing people into the booth with someone.”

Speak to polling station staff on the day about how they advise you to support people to the booths and in the booths. Make it clear that you are a Support Worker and they will give you guidance.

Some staff can be unsure and may not have been given guidance.

If this is the case, and you are not able to support someone in the way you want to, ring the electoral commission hotline number on 0333 103 1928, where someone will be able to help you.

When in the booth, take the time to read everything on the ballot paper. The person you support may want you to turn away while they vote, they may ask you to mark it for them.

If the person you support is non-verbal, you could read the list out and, using individual communication techniques, they can indicate who they want you to put a cross by e.g. nodding when you read the name they want to vote for.

Show the world people with learning disabilities and autism can vote

Share your photos and stories on social media and help dispel myths and misconception.

Remember to add #LoveYourVote to your Twitter and Facebook posts to be part of our Love Your Vote campaign.

Follow DimensionsUK on Twitter and DimensionsUK on Facebook.