“When I can’t understand what politicians say it’s really frustrating. It makes me want to disengage and ignore what it is happening in the political world.” So said autism campaigner Carl Shaw to Radio Aire last week. Low voting levels across the autism and learning disability community suggest that many share his frustration.
To address this in Leeds, a specially adapted Question Time style panel event for 50 people with learning difficulties was chaired by support provider Dimensions and hosted by Connect in the North last Friday. And by the end of the session, Fabian Hamilton MP and Greg Mulholland MP had been well and truly grilled. As Greg Mulholland noted, “this is why events like this are important; to hear about issues that we otherwise wouldn’t know about”
Attendees voted on the questions they wanted to ask and the topics chosen should be mandatory reading for the parties as they prepare their election manifestos. They included:
- What will your party do to help people with learning difficulties get jobs?
- What will your party do to allow us to use our bus passes before 9.30?
- Want will your party do to keep us safe?
- Should wheelchair users have priority over prams on buses?
- What will your party do to get us more involved in sports?
- What will your party do to make the benefits system simpler and less scary?
Both MPs spoke frankly, were not afraid to say when they weren’t sure and both were clear on the importance of equal opportunities as well as just equal rights for people with learning disabilities.
The Leeds event was a partnership between social care provider Dimensions, Connect in the North and the Parliamentary Outreach Team and formed part of Dimensions’ wider national ‘Love Your Vote’ campaign aiming to raise voting levels amongst the learning disability community – the next event is in Cardiff. As Carl Shaw noted, “If we really want politicians to focus on the issues that matter to us then we need to show them that they need our vote.”
Dimensions is a specialist provider of a wide range of services for people with learning disabilities and people who experience autism. We are a not-for-profit organisation, supporting around 3,500 people and their families throughout England and Wales. Find out more at www.dimensions-uk.org