A Student’s Eye View of Accessible Politics

OVER the summer LDAS was delighted to welcome professional footballer and politics student Cailin Michie on board. The Edinburgh University student was keen to learn about the work of LDAS in making politics accessible for people with learning disabilities. Here’s her take.

‘DURING my time working with LDAS, I learnt a lot about the ways in which LDAS works to break down the barriers that prevent people with learning disabilities from participating fully in society.

Firstly, Easy Read documents help people with learning disabilities to understand the current affairs of politics and how the political structure works. In drafting Easy Read documents, I became aware of the difficulty in simplifying these political processes. Topics such as Brexit and the work of MPs compared to councillors and Lords, for example, involve so many different aspects that they can quickly become overly complex to follow. As a politics student, I found it beneficial for my own understanding to break down this information into bite size chunks, since it is often true that if you can’t explain something simply, then you don’t understand it well enough. Additionally, I realised that Easy Read documents, or a similar accessible forms of political information, would benefit all those that feel less able to understand political events, beyond those with learning disabilities.

Secondly, working with the Forth Valley Accessible Politics Group. The task was to convey what the laws about data protection meant and how they were relevant to the group. The extra time needed to assist the group in processing the information made me increasingly aware of the struggles people with learning disabilities face when understanding legislation or long documents. It was easy to imagine their vulnerability and isolation when time is not taken to communicate with them in such an accessible manner. Also, it was clear that there would need to be extra resources and assistance to help them should they wish to become political representatives where long documents and meetings are a large part of the job.

Spending time with the group helped me understand that isolation from politics or society’s activities was far from the result of passive group members. Rather, the group were determined to be actively involved and had strong opinions about politics and were eager to share their experiences around data protection. I think it is a flaw in democracy that a group showing such interest in politics are prevented from participating equally because they are often not given the extra assistance they require.

Finally, LDAS’s Big Meeting encouraged service users to consider where they would like change in their lives. They were asked to vote on, or nominate alternative, issues that they wanted LDAS to investigate, such as increasing accessibility for people with learning disabilities or focussing on advocating for people with learning disabilities’ rights. I think the service users’ self-awareness and feedback around how they envisaged a better society highlights the importance of involving those with learning disabilities in the decision-making that will affect their lives.

Overall, I find that LDAS is vital and demonstrates through Easy Read documents, Accessible Politics Groups and service user meetings and so on ways in which people with learning disabilities can be supported into being involved in politics, and our society would do well to utilise these methods more readily.’


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