Working together with Enable Glasgow, a leading support organisation for people with learning disabilities, researchers from both universities held focus groups involving people with learning disabilities and their carers in order to explore issues around voting in the referendum.
Participants expressed uncertainty about whether they had been registered to vote and about access to the support necessary to enable them to vote in a meaningful way. Additionally, some carers raised concerns about potential influences that might sway people with learning disabilities as to how they might vote. For those without capacity, for example, those with severe learning disabilities, it was concluded that alternative arrangements may be needed to ensure their vote is not abused.
Researchers found that all groups raised concerns about the limited amount of information available in an appropriate format. Only three such sources of information on the referendum could be found, while the White Paper on Scotland’s Future was not made available in an accessible format until June 2014.
The participants of the study raised questions about the currency, the Trident nuclear programme, the NHS and travel in the event of either a Yes or No vote.
Dr Diane Willis from the University of Glasgow’s School of Nursing and Health Care said: “The research demonstrated that more education and training is required for those supporting people with learning disabilities in order to facilitate voting and discussion around political issues. Without such assistance and accessible information, people with learning disabilities will be effectively disenfranchised and denied their full rights to citizenship.
“Given that people with learning disabilities, for the most part, need some support in their daily lives, they are potentially one of the most vulnerable groups who may lose out when changes in welfare, social care and health funding occur.”
People with learning disabilities make up around two per cent of the UK population, with most now living in the community.
While study’s conclusions were welcomed by Enable Glasgow as they helped to ensure people with learning disabilities were given opportunities to make informed choices about the referendum and all future elections. “These research findings highlight,” Dr Willis added, “the necessity that members of this group are included in determining Scotland’s future.”
Finally, in light of the results of the study, the Glasgow Guardian asked the University if they or Disability Services aimed to do anything to help inform students with learning disabilities in the run up to the referendum. A spokesman for the University commented that, “this isn’t the responsibility of the Disability Services Unit and therefore not a question for the University.”