Families and support workers are critical to ensuring people with intellectual disabilities have the opportunity and support to vote, new research shows.
Australia’s electoral commissions, led by the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC), partnered with La Trobe University to conduct ground-breaking, Australian-first research, published last month in a report entitled Strategies to Support People with Intellectual Disabilities to Participate in Voting.
The research found that limited support from family members and carers was a key barrier to electoral participation.
La Trobe research lead Professor Christine Bigby said it was essential that families and staff acknowledged the rights of people with intellectual disabilities to vote.
“Low expectations from staff and family, and doubts about their capacity to understand voting, were found to be the major drivers of people with intellectual disabilities not participating in elections,” Professor Bigby said.
“On the other hand, the capacity-building initiative piloted by La Trobe and the VEC in the lead up to the November 2018 State election showed that by up-skilling staff in disability organisations, voter participation among people with disabilities increased.”
Victorian Electoral Commissioner, Warwick Gately AM, emphasised the importance of this research in designing strategies to empower and enfranchise people with disabilities who have previously lacked support.
“This report shows definitively that we must continue to work with disability organisations and build the capacity of their staff to support people with intellectual disabilities to engage in democracy,” Mr Gately said.
“We will also implement strategies to engage and educate families about voting rights with the aim of achieving equal rights to participation. Other electoral commissions will also be able to consider the research findings in developing strategies to support people with disability to exercise their rights to vote in their jurisdictions.”
Other recommendations include that electoral commissions note the role that law reform might play in removing families’ and carers’ doubts about who has the right to vote, and that peer education be further explored and piloted to build individual capacity of people with intellectual disabilities.
The report is available to download here.