A federal election has been called for Saturday 2 July 2016. All Australians, including people with disabilities, had to be enrolled to vote by 8pm Monday 23 May 2016.
I wonder how many people with disabilities will vote this year? Sadly, in my 16 years of working with adults with disabilities, I have never met anyone who was enrolled to vote.
Why aren’t people with disabilities voting?
I believe there are three reasons:
Many Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) marketing campaigns may not have included people with intellectual, behavioural or communication challenges and thus the broader community is not aware of their rights. I think society also questions whether people with disabilities are able to make an informed and independent selection of a candidate. It is my professional opinion that we shouldn’t underrate their competencies, as the people with disabilities I have worked with can tell me in great detail about the qualities of the players and coaches from a variety of sporting teams, so they are more than capable of learning about a couple of political parties.
The AEC does have educational resources for people with disabilities, but how many schools, work places and agencies are aware of them? The AEC also only sends enrolment forms and information to people over 18 who have a driver’s license or bills in their own name, which often excludes people with disabilities who live at home and don’t drive.
The information provided by AEC and the political parties is not easy to understand. The AEC has only recently been adapted for people with vision impairment, but with advances in technology I feel this could easily be rectified to make it accessible for people who have other challenges. There are other accessibility issues to do with transport to the polling booth, casting a postal vote and the actual selection of the candidates.
Why should people with disabilities vote?
I firmly believe it’s a fundamental human right as an Australian citizen to be part of the democratic process. As nearly 20% of Australians have a disability and the majority of those people are in the bottom 20% of wage earners and reliant on social support for quality of life, it is vital that they are empowered to lobby the Australian government to improve the services and policies of this nation (Australian Bureau of Statistics, Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers 2012).
Wouldn’t it be great if we were the first place to make voting truly accessible and equitable for all Australians?
For more information about voting with a disability visit: www.elections.wa.gov.au/vote/assistance/electors-disability.