'It's my right to vote': The challenges faced by those with learning disabilities

Two brothers from Holyhead have shared their experiences of politics and voting ahead of the Senedd election in May.

It comes after the charity Mencap warned that people with learning disabilities face being excluded from the democratic process.

Mike and Gary Gallagher have a keen interest in politics and want to highlight that everyone has a right to vote and should be able to use it.

But Mencap has raised concerns about "inaccessible language" and even some people with learning disabilities being turned away from polling stations at previous elections.

The charity said in previous elections, some people have faced challenges due to political parties not writing their manifestos in accessible language, or not providing them in other accessible formats.

It has also received reports of staff at polling stations "challenging people with learning disabilities" who are accompanied by family or support workers when voting.

Discussing the upcoming election, Mike's mother, Dot, said: "He likes to read. He looks things up on Google and then his makes his mind up.

"He talks to his friends about voting. Especially things about people with disabilities because it's not always easy for people with disabilities.

"They have transport problems. They have problems meeting their friends and being supported to do things they want to do.

"We had a good hustings in 2017 and we had a large group of adults with learning disabilities there who were very well informed.

"Unfortunately this year because of the pandemic we're not able to do that. We're doing as much as we can on Facebook informing them that [Monday] is the very last day to register.

"Also, it's their right to vote, because only one in six people with a learning disability vote and that may be because they don't know they can."

Dot also said that manifestos are not accessible enough for those with learning disabilities.

"What would help would be 'easy read' - Michael does read but some words are less understandable," she said.

Gary doesn't read so Dot reads the election leaflets to him.

Gary doesn't read, so Dot reads the election leaflets to him and he watches the news to enable him to decide who to vote for.

Gary is concerned that those with learning disabilities know their rights.

He said: "It's very important to vote because it's my right to vote. I always vote."

Mike and Gary are now campaigning for better access to the political process ahead of the election on 6 May.

The Electoral Commission has worked with Mencap to create an 'easy read' guide to voting in the May Senedd and Police and Crime Commissioner elections.

The Electoral Commission said it aims "to ensure all voters can cast their vote with confidence". Credit: PA Images

A statement from the Electoral Commission said: "The Commission aims to ensure all voters can cast their vote with confidence.

"Voters with a disability can ask polling station staff for help to cast their vote, or to navigate some of the public health measures that will be in place at this year's elections, such as the one-way system or maintaining distance from other voters.

"Voters can also bring someone with them who is over 18 and eligible to vote in the election to help them, polling station staff are made aware of this option in the Commission's guidance."

The commission also said that every polling station "should have an entry/exit ramp or a separate entrance" to make sure they are accessible to wheelchair users.

The statement continued: "We provide guidance to polling station staff to ensure they are aware of the accessibility measures that should be in place, and that anyone registered cannot be refused a ballot.

"We sought views from a number of accessibility organisations on this guidance and these are reflected in it."