People with disabilities and politics

| May 30, 2016

Voting is a democratic right that should be accessible to anyone. Cheryl McDonnell says people with disabilities need more support to participate fully in political events like the upcoming federal elections.

Election time is upon us and raises many questions for people with disabilities. It is unfair in a free and democratic society that voting is compulsory for everyone over 18 unless you are perceived by someone else to have a cognitive disability; in which case, very often, your right to vote will be summarily taken from you and cast into the land of ‘except you’ by a possibly well-meaning person who presumably does not have a cognitive disability and has not even asked you if voting is something you would like to do.

The incoming National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) promises to provide support for people with disabilities to live a life that is equitable with their peers. This presumably means supporting the right of people with disabilities to engage with and participate in political events. I expect that decades of poll exclusion will need to be undone to restore to many people their human right to take part in elections.

Politics has long been the domain of the able-bodied and able-minded. It is only in recent years that attention has been turned to the accessibility of polling places and the polling booths themselves.

We must question the accessibility of ballot papers themselves and all information regarding an election. How much election information is made accessible to people who require Easy English? Are all political parties preparing their policies in standard and Easy English versions along with braille, audio and other versions to make the policies accessible to all people of voting age? The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 includes the administration of Commonwealth Government laws and programs and it also includes provision of goods, services and facilities. So it is within keeping of Australia’s laws that such matters of accessibility should be made by all parties and independents standing for election.

Considering Australia’s past history of denying people with disability the right to vote it should be a major consideration for the NDIS to provide support to all people presently excluded from voting to reconsider the question of their participation in elections and for the Australian Electoral Commission to accept without the need for court or other approval reviewed decisions by people with disability who would like to utilise their full human rights.