We hope that the easy read information on this website will give people a better understanding of what voting is, and why it is important and relevant to us all. As a politician, however, you also have an important role to play in this process. By being aware of the right of constituents with learning disabilities to vote, and considering their needs when you create and communicate information, you are making it easier for people to use their vote and have their views represented.
Below, you will find information on what the laws says are the duties and responsibilities of individuals and organisations, in terms of ensuring equal access for people with disabilities.
The Equalities Act 210
The Equality Act 2010 is an Act of the UK Parliament which repealed and replaced The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (except in Northern Ireland where it still applies). The primary purpose of the Equality Act is to codify the different acts and regulations, which form the basis of anti-discrimination law in Great Britain (including the Disability Discrimination Act). The Equality Act requires equal treatment in access to employment as well as private and public services, regardless of the protected characteristics of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.
In this way, the Equalities Act legally protects disabled people in the workplace and in wider society. For example; Section 15 of the Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for an employer to treat an employee unfavourably because of something “arising in consequence of” his or her disability where the employer knows, or could reasonably be expected to know, that the employee has a disability.
Provisions of the Equality Act which relate to disability are:
- Extending protection against indirect discrimination to disability
- Introducing the concept of “discrimination arising from disability” to replace protection under previous legislation lost as a result of a legal judgement
- Applying the detriment model to victimisation protection (aligning with the approach in employment law). A detriment is any act which disadvantages an individual. This can range from demotion, to the docking of pay. However, a detriment can also be subtle, such as the refusing of requests for holiday on particular dates.
- Harmonising the thresholds for the duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people
- Extending protection against harassment of employees by third parties to all protected characteristics
- Making it more difficult for disabled people to be unfairly screened out when applying for jobs, by restricting the circumstances in which employers can ask job applicants questions about disability or health.
Public Sector Equality Duty
The public sector Equality Duty (PSED) is part of the Equalities Act. It requires public bodies to exercise due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between different people when carrying out their activities. The PSED covers a broad list of public bodies including, for example, central government departments, local authorities, the armed forces, and the key health, education, policing and transport bodies.
Specifically, the PSED requires that public bodies:
- Have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination
- Advance equality of opportunity
- Foster good relations between different people when carrying out their activities.
MPs’ Code of Conduct
The purpose of the MPs’ Code of Conduct is to provide guidance on the standards of conduct expected of Members of the UK Parliament in discharging their parliamentary and public duties, and to provide the openness and accountability necessary to reinforce public confidence in them. Point 5 of the Code states: “Members have a duty to uphold the law, including the general law against discrimination, and to act on all occasions in accordance with the public trust placed in them.”
This implies that MPs should uphold anti-discrimination laws, which are principally The Equalities Act (above) and Equal Treatment Directives of the European Union as well as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (see below). This includes discrimination against those with disabilities.
United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is an international human rights treaty of the United Nations intended to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities. Parties to the Convention are required to promote, protect, and ensure the full enjoyment of human rights by persons with disabilities and ensure that they enjoy full equality under the law.
The UK Government ratified the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in June 2009. Article 29 of the Convention specifically deals with disabled people’s participation in political and public life.
The first initial report on how the UK Government is implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities can be found here: www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/345120/uk-initial-report.pdf
The report details how the UK Government is meeting the requirements of political participation among disabled people:
Article 29 – Participation in political and public life
Political rights of disabled people
318. The UK Government is committed to the right of disabled people to vote, and in the UK disabled people, including people with learning difficulties, have the same right to vote as everyone else. People with mental health conditions are eligible to vote, including residents in psychiatric hospitals unless they have been detained under certain sections of the relevant mental health legislation or are convicted criminal offenders. Like non-disabled people, the decision on whether and how to vote must be made by the disabled electors themselves.
319. The UK recognises that disabled people can face barriers to exercising their right to vote. The UK Government is committed to removing these barriers, and to providing extra support to enable disabled people, including those with learning difficulties, to participate fully in political and public life.
Accessibility of the voting system
320. In the UK, the ability of disabled people to vote is protected through legislation such as the Equality Act 2010, DDA as amended and Electoral Administration Act 2006. Polling stations in the UK must have any reasonable physical adjustments they need to make them accessible to disabled people. All polling stations must provide an enlarged version of the ballot paper, a tactile voting device and low-level polling. Voters can also ask someone else to mark their ballot paper for them. Documents must be available in other languages and formats, including pictures, Braille and audio format.
The Electoral Commission – which is the independent body that monitors and advises on the electoral process – has produced a number of guides on how to vote, including an animated film and guidance for local authorities about how to make voting accessible for disabled people.
321. Everyone in England, Wales and Scotland – including disabled people – can vote by post without a reason being required. People in Northern Ireland – including disabled people – can vote by post but need to give a reason for doing so. If someone cannot vote in person, they can also apply for someone to vote by proxy.
Participation in political and public life
322. The Government has made a commitment to address the current under-representation of disabled people in public and political life. Latest figures show that in England disabled people were less likely to have engaged in civic involvement than non-disabled people. In 2009/10, 60% of non-disabled people undertook at least one activity of civic involvement in the last 12 months, compared with 55% of disabled people. Similarly the numbers of Members of Parliament who have declared themselves as disabled are very low compared to the proportion of the population as a whole.
323. The first step is to introduce extra support for disabled people who want to become Members of Parliament, councillors or other elected officials. In England, a public consultation on ‘Access to Elected Office for disabled people’ was conducted between February and May 2011. The Government response to the consultation, which was published in September, states its intention to take forward five of the six proposals consulted on, including the establishment of a fund to support disability related costs for individuals seeking elected office.
324. Over the coming months the Government will work with political parties , disability organisations and other equality stakeholders to develop these proposals further and work up a strategy which will aim to break down barriers which prevent disabled people from standing for local and national elected office, with £1 million available annually between 2011/12 and 2013/14.
325. In Scotland, the Scottish Government funds disabled people’s organisations to help disabled people in local communities to work with national and local government. The Civic Participation Network helps people who need support to communicate to participate in public life. It also contributes to the Government’s initiative to ensure communication across the public sector is inclusive.
326. In Wales the Welsh Government runs awareness-raising campaigns to encourage disabled people to apply for public appointments. Disabled people who hold or have held public appointments are involved in these campaigns.
Towards the end of the report, on page 109, there is a summary of issues raised by disabled people’s organisations and others during preparation of the report. This section states that:
“Disabled people in the UK have welcomed ratification of the Convention and the commitment to the social model demonstrated. They have been positive about the opportunity to comment on the draft report, and to be involved in the monitoring, reporting and implementation processes.”
However the report’s authors go on to say:
“This summary is not intended to represent all the views expressed. Some related to wide-ranging issues, such as the availability of accessible information, the attitudes and understanding of those working with disabled people, the Welfare Reform agenda, and public sector funding. Others are more precise with respondents highlighting the particular circumstances and needs of specific groups of disabled people. These include older people who are disabled; disabled women (Article 6); disabled children and young people (Article 7); people with learning difficulties; people with mental health conditions; and people with complex needs.”