Learning disabilities

There are approximately 1.5 million adults in the UK with learning disabilities. A learning disability is caused by something affecting the way the brain develops and usually occurs during pregnancy, birth or because of an illness in childhood. It is a lifelong condition and is not the same as a mental illness.

There are many different types of learning disability, most of which affect a person’s capacity to learn. Learning disability is also known as learning difficulty, intellectual impairment or intellectual disability.

Communication needs

People with learning disabilities often have communication needs and therefore benefit from information that has either been adapted or been created to especially meet their communication needs.

Many people with learning disabilities find it helpful to have information in easy read. Easy read is about using simple sentences with helpful images to explain something. We have used easy read to create parts of this website. You can find out more about using easy read in our five-point guide.

Mental capacity and voting

People with learning disabilities may have reduced mental capacity, but this does not affect their right to vote.

People with a learning disability have the same right to vote as anyone else. Like all other voters, they must be over 18 years old, and must meet the nationality and residence criteria laid out by the Electoral Commission. The Electoral Commission states that the person must also not have a legal incapacity to vote. The use of the term “incapacity” here can cause confusion. A lack of mental capacity is not the same as legal incapacity. Someone with learning disabilities has the right to vote regardless of their mental capacity.

Like anyone else, someone with learning disabilities has the right to choose who they want to vote for by any criteria they like. It is not up to anyone else to judge if reasons for choosing someone are valid or not. Equally, the decision over whether someone votes or not must be theirs and theirs alone. Carers and support workers are not allowed to make decisions on behalf of the person they care for when it comes to voting.

When it comes to voting by proxy, Section 29 of the Mental Capacity Act (2005) says that a person can only appoint a proxy if they have the mental capacity to do so. Whether voting in person or by proxy, however, the vote must be cast for the candidate that the person with a learning disability chooses and no one else.

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