Tag Archives: Voting

I want people to have a say in the future of our country

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This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

Alice is a keen campaigner and star of our Scope for Change training program.

As part of 30 Under 30, she shares her experiences of the program, how it has given her the confidence to run her own campaigns and why it is important that everyone uses their vote in the EU referendum.

I’ve been interested in activism ever since my dad introduced me to grassroots politics as a kid. He took me to my first demo when I was twelve years old and I’ve been hooked ever since.

I love the way direct action works, how it unapologetically demands our voices be heard. Change will never come about whilst we are unwilling to engage in the system, despite how broken it may be. Direct action gives us the opportunity to challenge and offer an alternative.

Alice, a young disabled woman, smiles at the camera with her dad

Getting the tools I needed

I had never organised my own campaign until I joined Scope For Change. I applied to the program last year and I was over the moon when I found out I had been accepted. We are a group of twenty-two young disabled people all interested in activism.

In March we attended a ‘bootcamp’ where we had extensive training on how to run a successful campaign. We were taught a wide range of tactics from how to utilise social media to getting the support of politicians. This training not only gave me the tools I needed, but also the confidence!

Running my own campaign

Currently I am running a campaign to encourage people in my neighbourhood to vote in the EU referendum. Engaging people in politics is something that I am passionate about. Too many people bury their heads in the sand and become ever increasingly apathetic. I can understand why this happens, I too have little faith in our current political system.

However, I believe referendums give the electorate a rare chance to participate in a form of direct democracy and we should be excited about this opportunity!

Our community is one which doesn’t have much of a voice in society. We live in social housing and the vast majority of us can’t find work because we are disabled. We are often judged and not listened to.

The aim of my campaign has not been to tell people how to vote but to empower them to go out and exercise their democratic right. I wanted people to know that not only does their opinion matter, but that it is significant and can make a difference.

A pile of leaflets relating to the EU referendum. They say "Should we stay or should we go?"

A unique opportunity to have a say in the future of our country

Over the last few weeks I have made hundreds of leaflets and posters explaining how to register to vote and why it is so important to do this. I have printed these in a large font and on coloured paper to make them as accessible as possible. Two of my lovely neighbours have been wonderful and helped me deliver these. I have assisted people to sign up who would have otherwise struggled to do this independently. Door knocking has also played a big part as some people are unable to read English, this has sparked conversations and it’s been interesting to hear how people are voting and why.

Throughout my campaign I have emphasised that we will not be voting to elect someone to represent us, but are being asked a direct question. Should we remain in the EU or should we leave? This is a unique opportunity to have a say in the future of our country and we should embrace this.

On 23 June, I have arranged a meeting place for local people to gather at various times throughout the day. We will be walking to the polling station and voting together. I believe this will encourage people, especially those who are unsure where the polling station is or are unfamiliar with the process. I know some of my disabled neighbours will really struggle to do this independently and my hope is that voting collectively will provide the support they need.

I have always been an activist, but Scope have given me the confidence I needed to run my own campaigns and I can’t thank them enough for this gift. I plan to run many more in the future which I hope will be as successful as this one promises to be!

Alice is sharing her story as part of 30 Under 30. We are sharing one story a day throughout June from disabled people who are doing something extraordinary. Visit our website to read the stories so far.

Are you voting in the EU referendum? We want disabled people to have a clear understanding of their voting rights and options. Read our blog about voting and elections for more information.

If I became Mayor of London

Voting is in full swing as the people of London decide who will be the Mayor of their city. This time tomorrow, the decision will have been made and the new Mayor of London will be ready to make their first moves. We asked some of the Scope For Change campaigners what they would do if they became Mayor of London.

Becca

“I would endeavour to make all modes of transport accessible for wheelchair-users. I say endeavour, because I realise that this could be quite expensive, all things considered, and the term ‘disabled-friendly’ has a habit of being quite subjective. Therefore, a consultation for disabled people would be vital to get opinions on what needs changing. The fact that only 25% of tube stations on the Underground are accessible is a big issue that needs to be dealt with.

With more ramps and spaces for wheelchairs (which is also required in rail services), this will also benefit those with small children in buggies. ”

Becca, a young woman, smiles in a power chair

Jack

“I would establish a new free of charge emergency helpline for disabled people who are victims of disabilist attacks on the streets. I’d also ensure extra training is provided for police officers to effectively support those who are disabled or are vulnerable individuals generally.

A new Deputy Mayor will also be appointed with a specific portfolio in ‘Wellbeing and Inclusion’, incorporating the needs of disabled people and ensuring the emotional wellbeing of the population remains high on the agenda.

Lastly, I will work closely with TfL to make sure the process of fully accessible underground stations is accelerated, with the busiest stations taking priority.”

Jack, a young man, smiles at the camera

Becky

“I would  make sure that all of London’s transport system is accessible for everyone. The same with all of the attractions.”

Becky, a young woman in a power chair, smiles at the camera

Gabi

“As humans we are unique, we’ve travelled different paths and experienced different pain. I’d want to introduce methods to help people recognise difference positively; putting an end to stigma, discrimination, bullying and years worth of irreversible emotional damage.

Disability, ethnicity, sexuality, status, class, age, gender, religious and cultural beliefs will no longer be attacked or ridiculed. Having identified in my life as an openly disabled, gay, catholic, homeless woman, I feel best placed to head the ‘celebrating diversity’ campaign and hope to make this a citywide priority.

Challenge the stereotype, not the person!”

Gabi, a young woman, smiles at the camera

There’s still time to vote in today’s elections. Read our blog on voting to make sure you’re clued up on your rights and options. 

“You have to fight being pigeon-holed”

Guest post by Tom Garrod, an events manager, public speaker and councillor in Norfolk who has ataxic cerebral palsy. Here he shares his experience of being a councillor and what being a disabled person in politics can mean.

I was elected as a councillor when I was 19 and I have been a councillor for six years. People are still surprised when they meet me as their councillor, they’re surprised I’m the bloke from the leaflet! I think this is equal parts my age and my disability.

You have to fight being pigeon-holed because of your age, your disability and your label. I’ve been asked “Tom, you’re very young for a councillor, do you think the council should be run by teenagers and young people?” And I said no, of course not. You couldn’t have a Tom Garrod, a councillor for Norfolk smiles at the cameragroup of 60 or 70 year olds running the council. They would be missing a different perspective. You need a mix.

Sometimes I have the same issue with my disability. A role relating to disabilities came up in the council and someone said “Tom that’s a perfect role for you! You know what disabled people are like.” And I said , what do you mean? I have cerebral palsy. I don’t have autism or Down’s Syndrome. I’m not blind and I don’t have hearing loss. I have no idea about lots of disabilities. But there was the assumption that I’m part of that label and we’re all the same.

Don’t make assumptions

I think being disabled can give you that perspective. My experiences have taught me not to make assumptions. I don’t know what it’s like to be a blind person but I know that I don’t know. I know I need to go and find out about these experiences. When you commission services, you’re not treating a disability. You’re treating the effects.

I remember being really nervous when I gave my first speech to the council as a councillor. It was budget day so the full council was sitting. I was nervous not only about the politics of what I wanted to say but also how I was going to say it. Would I be listened to?

The leader of the council helped me with my speech and afterwards I asked him what he thought of how I delivered the speech? He said what was interesting was that five councillors spoke before me and there was the usual chatter as they talked with people whispering, making comments. But when I stood up to speak you could tell everyone was nervous about not understanding me, so everyone stopped and really listened to every word. I thought I was the only one nervous!

Because of my disability, I make a conscious effort to only speak if I have something to add. With my disability, I have a subconscious instinct of thinking, do I need to say what I want to say? How can I say this as effectively as possible? Of course, I do enjoy the sound of my own voice but only when it makes difference. Otherwise, what’s the point?

It’s time to get involved

Now is a brilliant time to be involved in politics. When I was elected, during the first round of budget cuts, people said, “Tom, you could have chosen a better time to get elected. Maybe when there was more money about!” But I see it as now being an important time, with real decisions being made at a local level. If you’re a young person or a disabled person and you want to be involved in politics, just ask. Don’t take no for an answer.

With approaching local council and London Mayoral elections, as well as the EU referendum, we want disabled people to have a clear understanding of their voting rights and options. Read our blog about voting and elections for more information.

Header image: Norfolk County Hall, Martineau Lane (Graham Hardy) / CC BY-SA 2.0

Voting and Elections: know your rights and options

With the EU referendum approaching, we want disabled people to have a clear understanding of their voting rights and options.

We know that in the past disabled voters have struggled to cast their ballot. We want to make sure all voters, disabled and non-disabled, have the right to vote independently and in secret. If you are registered to vote, you cannot be refused a ballot paper or the chance to vote on the grounds of mental or physical impairment.

How to vote

In-person

You can vote in person at your local polling station. Before an upcoming vote, you will be sent a polling card if you are registered to vote. This card will tell you the location of your local polling station. Don’t worry, you don’t need to bring your polling card with you on polling day.

Your polling station should be  open from 7am to 10pm.

All polling stations should be wheelchair accessible and support disabled voters. If you need assistance on polling day, you can ask a member of staff, called a Presiding Officer.

If you need to use a disabled parking space, these should be clearly visible and monitored throughout the day.

Proxy

Can’t get to your local polling station? You can register to vote by proxy. Voting by proxy means that you appoint someone you trust to vote on your behalf.

Voting by proxy can be useful if you are worried that you won’t be able to get to a polling station on polling day. For example, you may have an on-going illness. You can complete and post a Proxy vote form, which is available online.

You and the person you nominate to vote on your behalf must be registered to vote.

Postal

Voting by post means that you will be sent a ballot form to mark your vote via post.

Voting by post can be useful if you are worried that you won’t be able to get to a polling station and would rather keep your vote secret.

You will need to complete and post a Postal vote form, which is available online.

Additional support

Presiding Officers

If you are voting in person at a polling station, there are a number of ways the staff, called Presiding Officers, can support you to vote.

Don’t worry if you can not mark your ballot paper, Presiding Officers may mark your ballot paper for you. You may also attend the polling station with someone who you would like to mark your ballot paper on your behalf.

Polling stations should be accessible for everyone wishing to vote. If for whatever reason your local polling station isn’t accessible, Presiding Officers should provide you with a ballot paper and allow you to vote outside of the polling station.

Tactile Voting Devices

Polling stations should provide tactile voting devices.

The tactile voting device attaches on top of your ballot paper. It has numbered flaps (the numbers are raised and are in braille) directly over the boxes where you mark your vote.

A Presiding Officer or someone you have attended the polling station with can read out the list of candidates. You can then use the large numbered flaps to find the part of the ballot paper you wish to mark with your vote.

Large Print and Magnifying Assistance

Polling stations should provide large print versions of ballot papers.

Polling stations should also provide magnifying assistance. These magnifying sheets can be placed over standard and large print versions of ballot paper to make them easier to read.

Presiding Officers should be able to provide these aids on request.

What if my polling station isn’t accessible?

If you visit a polling station and find it inaccessible, you can complain to your local authority. You can find out the contact details of your local authority online.

You can also contact your local Electoral Commission office to find out more information.

I had to vote in the car park as there was no wheelchair access! – #100days100stories

Rosemary Frazer is Campaigns Manager at Scope. In the final days leading up to the General Election, she shares her story of why it’s important disabled people are able to cast their vote as easily as everyone else, as part of our 100 days, 100 stories campaign.

Woman sitting in a wheelchair, with a grey carigan and short dark hair, smiling at the cameraI’ve been interested in politics for as long as I can remember. Friends and family tell me my interest borders on geekishness, but I grew up in Northern Ireland, where politics and politicians were a constant presence, so I suppose I could blame it on that!

I’ve always been a keen campaigner, mainly on disability issues as I am a wheelchair user. I had been supported by local politicians for various campaigns. I couldn’t wait to vote for the first time at 18. I remember going to the polling station, marking my ballot paper and folding it up before popping it in the box. I watched the election results come in late into the night (doesn’t everyone do that?). Unfortunately my favourite candidate didn’t get elected. First lesson of politics, you don’t always get to choose the winner!

What do you mean I can’t get in?

Ballot box with a hand posting a voteI moved to London in the late ’90s and in 2001 I was excited to be voting for the first time in London. I registered to vote, received my ballot paper and was all set. I got to the polling station and found that I couldn’t get into the building because it wasn’t accessible!

I couldn’t believe that they hadn’t sorted out proper access. It really did throw me! I was reminded of the time as a child I heard about the Suffragette Movement and thought ‘Why on earth would women not be allowed to vote?’ My thoughts were exactly the same about access at polling stations. ‘Why on earth would you not provide proper facilities for disabled people to vote?’

I had to vote in the car park

I kicked up quite a fuss and in the end a rather farcical situation ensued. The staff at the polling station physically carried a polling booth outside and I cast my vote in the car park. I remember feeling so angry and embarrassed as people arriving to vote were looking at me wondering what on earth was going on. I decided there and then I wouldn’t be going through that experience again!

Importance of voting and being seen to vote

Polling station signI had heard about Scope’s Polls Apart campaign to improve access to voting for disabled people and ended up getting involved with others in improving access, awareness and support in my constituency.

Access to voting hasn’t improved anything like as much as it should have done since my dreadful experience in 2001. At the 2010 General Election, Scope campaigners reported on 400 Parliamentary Constituencies and found that two-thirds (67%) of polling stations had at least one significant access barrier.

Participating and belonging

Young disabled woman votingPostal voting is a vital option for people who find it difficult to travel to their polling station. However postal ballots should not be an excuse for not providing good access and staff training. Indeed by not using accessible venues disabled people are further disadvantaged by not being able to volunteer at polling stations or counting centres.

It is really important for me to be seen to be participating in the same things that non-disabled people do. Taking part in the democratic process is a vital part of that.

My local polling station is now fully accessible with well trained staff. When I cast my vote on May 7th I will be able to do so just like everyone else. For me things have greatly improved but more work needs to be done and we need to keep pushing for better access and support.

I will still be staying up half the night to watch the results come in so perhaps I really am a geek!

Find out more about our 100 days, 100 stories campaign, and find out more about the lives of disabled people and their families.

Under-representation of disabled people in public and political life

While disabled people have a vital contribution to make to public and political life, they are significantly under-represented throughout our political system. The reality is that Parliament is nowhere near reflecting the proportion of disabled people in the UK, and local government reveals a similar story in terms of the level of under-representation.

The consequence of this is that the quality of our government suffers from the existing lack of representation. As the Government presses ahead with a wealth of reforms that will have a real effect on disabled people’s lives, it is essential that their voices are being heard – now more than ever.

Tackling under-representation of disabled people

The different barriers that prevent disabled people from standing for elected positions have been widely examined by the Speaker’s Conference on parliamentary representation a few years ago. The Government has already acted upon some of the recommendations, for instance by committing to establish a dedicated fund to address the extra costs faced by disabled people in standing for election.

We know the additional financial disadvantage – arising, for example, from the cost of employing an interpreter or from the extra cost of taking a taxi rather than a bus due to the inaccessibility of transport – is a real concern to many disabled people who want to put themselves forward and stand for election. Over the last months, Scope has been working with the Government to help develop the fund.

With the fund set to become operational by later this year, this will no doubt represent a crucial moment in terms of improving disabled people’s participation in public life. In the meantime, we are seeing welcome progress on a number of other proposals.

Following the consultation last year, the Government is now publishing guidance for political parties to ensure that parties are clear about their legal obligations. Many disabled people fear that their reasonable adjustment requirements would not be met if they were to stand for election.

In light of this, the guidance is welcome indeed. All political parties have important roles to play in making sure that disabled people feel confident about seeking support and are provided with the reasonable adjustments they need, thus enabling them to perform to the best of their ability.

In addition, the Government is also currently working with disabled people and disabled people’s organisations to develop a training package for disabled people wishing to access elected office – which is due to be launched in the months to come.

We still have a long way to go before there is any prospect of achieving an equal representation of disabled people in public life. More needs doing, but as Lynne Featherstone, the Minister for Equalities, writes, “These policies are just the start of what we are doing to make Parliament and councils more representative of the people they serve.”

What is absolutely clear – and as the Minister acknowledges – is the positive effect this would bring in terms of decision-making: “As the Minister for Equalities, it seems obvious to me our democratic institutions make the best decisions when they have a mix of people with different skills, backgrounds and experiences, from right across the country.”