England & Wales, Scotland Democracy, devolution and governance

My Vote My Voice: empowering people with learning disabilities and autistic people vote


On 28 February 2023, Simone Short, LGIU Events Coordinator, and Jack Lister, LGIU Membership Coordinator for England, attended the My Vote My Voice campaign launch at Portcullis House in Westminster.

My vote my voice campaign launch

The campaign is aimed at empowering people with learning disabilities and autistic people to use their vote. The afternoon was opened by Ali Gunn, Head of Public Affairs and Policy at United Response and Chair of the My Vote My Voice steering group, and followed by words from Alex Norris MP, Shadow Minister for Levelling Up. The speakers were then followed by speeches from a handful of self-advocates, a Q&A session, and concluded by Lee Rowley MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

While the gathering had an overwhelmingly positive and energetic feel, it highlighted the profound challenges faced by autistic people and people with learning disabilities when it comes to voting.

People with learning disabilities and autistic people face greater challenges when exercising their right to vote

Dr Mark Brookes MBE, Gáibhin McGranaghan, and Ismail Kaji emphasised the systemic challenges currently inherent in the voting system. From overly complex forms to a lack of privacy that means voters must use a proxy to cast and submit their vote, people with autism and learning disabilities are forced to exert greater effort than the general public in order to exercise their right to vote. Voting locations can be overstimulating and poll workers often don’t have the training to effectively help someone with additional needs. Voters can face extreme social anxiety making public transport and voting locations challenging to navigate. The impaired executive function of people with autism and learning disabilities means that planning to vote and executing those plans can be even more difficult.

In addition to these issues, voting is set to become even more difficult for autistic people and people with learning disabilities. A new law is set to come into effect on 4 May 2023 which will require voters to present a valid photo ID when voting in person this coming election season. This law will present additional hurdles for voters, as Hannah Molloy, from Ambitious about Autism outlined. While many of the UK population lack a passport or driver’s licence which are both accepted forms of voter ID, even fewer people with autism and learning disabilities are likely to have them – making the process increasingly challenging.

Solutions to voting challenges for people with learning disabilities and autistic people

The event sought to address both the problems and solutions when it comes to voting for people with different needs. Self-advocates held an engaging Q&A session where they discussed a variety of approaches to addressing these barriers. One questioner posited that people with autism and learning disabilities might be more likely to become politically involved if there were more representatives with autism. Solutions mentioned also included colour-coding reading materials, more easy-read and braille material online and in print, voting reminders via text and email, and online access to voting.

James Walker also made the point that with the upcoming voter ID legislation, it is ever-more important for representatives to physically spend time in their constituencies, educating them and listening to their concerns. James also mentioned that a practical solution could be a group of autistic people and people with learning disabilities that regularly comes together to share their views. Now, sharing and listening tend to occur on an ad-hoc basis and through charities, when a more independent and ongoing dialogue would go far to ensure that all citizens with a right to vote are enfranchised.

The afternoon was closed by Lee Rowley MP, who stressed the importance of voter ID in preventing voter fraud. The afternoon was one that inspired meaningful progress toward ensuring that all citizens are able to “vot[e] with honour, respect, and decency”, as poignantly stated by self-advocate Alex Hughes.

To learn more and join in

To learn more about the My Vote My Voice campaign and take the pledge for your organisation, click here.

Check out our recent briefing on the impact of voter ID (Open to members only):

The face of democracy: photo ID arrives at UK elections


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