Disabled people and voting: it’s about much more than access

Polling fenceThere are always a number of campaigns around this time on ensuring voting is accessible for all disabled people. Such campaigns are usually accompanied by statistics about the physical inaccessibility of polling stations or the fact party manifestos are rarely produced in Easy Read formats.

This is all right and proper: it’s the bare minimum to ensure the process of voting is accessible for disabled people, and the work of organisations in drawing attention to this is valuable.

For me, though, there’s a much wider point that receives relatively little attention: the idea of disabled people as equal citizens and a key constituency in the electorate whose thoughts and preferences are responded to and catered for by politics and policy.

If disabled people[1] were thought of in this way, we would know much more comprehensively than we do answers to questions such as:

  • How many disabled people vote?
  • What are the political preferences of disabled people?
  • What do disabled people consider to be key election issues?

What’s more, we, the media and political parties would have polling data from Ipsos-Mori, YouGov etc. and all sorts of focus group information specific to what disabled people think and want.

Answers to such questions and such information would help give everyone, but especially political parties and the media, a better understanding of the place – and so power – of disabled people within the electorate[2].

Equivalent precedents exist: we have the Suffragettes and Operation Black Vote that have aimed to secure the political representation and enfranchisement of women and people from BME backgrounds. When it comes to the economy, we have the “Pink Pound” and we now (occasionally) talk about “the disabled pound”.

But, to a large extent, the equal citizenship of disabled people just isn’t on the agenda. If it were, no government would act in such a reckless fashion as the coalition has when it comes to things like the changes to Disability Living Allowance, the Bedroom Tax, employment support for disabled people and the continued poor performance of Access to Work, abolishing the Independent Living Fund, failure after failure following Winterbourne View and so on. Because disabled people aren’t thought of equally as citizens, though, governments can act with relative impunity when it comes to issues of direct relevance to disabled people.

As I’ve argued before, a positive part of any future disability rights agenda must be one which seeks to understand, further and secure the place of disabled people as equal citizens, and so an equal part of the electorate and with it an equal role within democracy.

Disabled people and voting is about much, much more than access.


[1] – I fully recognise it’s a nonsense to take about ‘disabled people’ as if this represents any sort of homogenous block. To keep this post relatively uncomplicated I’m just making a general point here

[2] – There are a couple of organisations who have recently started to capture the policy interests of disabled people; see, for example, the tremendous work of the Learning Disability Alliance and a survey carried out by Papworth Trust


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Man of letters & numbers; also occasionally of action. Husband to NTW. Dad of three. Friendly geek.

4 thoughts on “Disabled people and voting: it’s about much more than access”

  1. For all citizens, expressing an identity in a way that allows both for privacy and attribute aggregation is really difficult.

    My attributes and preferences cannot easily be added to another persons to enable Sigma for the Group to be calculated.

    Disabled people can potentially aggregate their views and preferences and answer your questions if there is a trusted process.

    Today, if this information is captured, it is often then kept on the other side of a digital firewall by a company or polling organisation or survey tool.

    As such, this does not empower a community but almost disenfranchises it more.

    For example, as citizens we probably do not know the Sigma of MPs with a long term condition or specific LTC and I wonder if it would help if we did, or the Sigma of Bristol or Morpeth people with a LTC ?

    How could people feel safe to volunteer this information, and if they trust a way to offer it, how would society work together to make decisions with this information that empower participants and not others with other motives ?

    1. Thanks Alex. I’m not suggesting that disabled people should volunteer this information as such; I’m suggesting that political, media and polling organisations should make much more effort to understand disabled people as part of the electorate. I suppose it’s just another form of segmentation of the data they already have.

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