Voting is an important part of life and it is important to me. This is the same for lots of people with a learning disability too. A new Mencap survey of people with a learning disability shows that 7 in 10 people think politics is important and want to vote in the general election in May 2015.
The decisions that politicians make impact on my life and the lives of the 1.4 million people with a learning disability and their families in the UK. For this reason, it is important that we speak up and that candidates from all parties hear what we have to say on what matters to us.
I have a wife and three children. Any changes to education, the healthcare system, welfare or transport will directly affect me and my family. That is why I must have the chance to use my vote for the political party that I think will do the best job for us as a family.
But wanting to vote and being able to vote are two very different things for people with a learning disability. With support, I managed to vote in the local elections this May, but 64% of people with a learning disability didn't. Lots of people said that registering to vote was too hard. This is something I understand far too well.
When I first got my voter registration form, it was really hard to fill in. I didn't know what I had to do. The information that explained the form wasn't clear either and the form had too many difficult words. It made me feel excluded. I was angry because voting is important to me, but it was too difficult for me to even register.
I had to bring the form into work so that my colleagues could help me fill it in. I am lucky I have people around me who can help, but it shouldn't be this way. Everyone with a learning disability should be able to register to vote, it is our right. We just need things to be more accessible and simple - something I think everyone would appreciate!
Lots of people with a learning disability who didn't vote in the local elections also said that they didn't know which party to vote for. This is hardly surprising. Politicians use really complicated language and jargon that is hard to follow. The parties should make sure they publish their Manifestos for the general election in Easy Read so that people with a learning disability know what they stand for. Then people with a learning disability can make the right choice for them on who they want to vote for.
1 in 5 people with a learning disability were turned away from the polling station at the local elections because they had a learning disability. There is no excuse for this ignorance in 21st century Britain. We have the same right as anybody else to vote, but we are being discriminated against because of our disability. As a result, we're not being fully included in the voting system. This means that issues that are important to us are not being heard.
People with a learning disability are discriminated against every day. Over half of disabled people have been victims of hate crime because of their disability. And 1,200 people with a learning disability die avoidably every year in the NHS because or poor healthcare and discrimination. This is unacceptable and must change. It is not right that politicians are also discriminating against people with a learning disability. Their job is to represent the people who live in their local area and fight for what matters to us - fight against the discrimination we face.
Politicians and candidates must listen to what we have to say and try to understand how their decisions will affect us if they get elected. I am working on Mencap's Hear my voice campaign, which will help people with a learning disability - people like me - to get our voices heard. I hope that MPs and candidates will listen to people with a learning disability in their local areas as we get closer to the general election.
Our voices matter. Together, people with a learning disability and our families can make a difference.