Using my vote and my voice is more important than ever
Drawing on his own experiences, Mark has helped change the law on decision-making for disabled people. In 2019, Mark received an MBE for his services to People with Learning Disabilities and Autism and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Law from the University of Kent, one of the first people in the country who has a learning disability to receive such an award.
“Having been voting for the last 10 to 15 years, it’s started to feel so normal for me that it’s easy to take for granted. Indeed, the idea that every adult can exercise their basic democratic right seems a very simple one.
“However, for many people with learning disabilities and autism, it isn’t always that easy. Many have been missing out on the experience of voting because they simply aren’t aware of their right to vote. Others face basic barriers to participation. Although less common, but especially concerning, are the experiences of those that have faced criticism for the reasonable adjustments they can make to vote.
“This is why I’m a firm supporter of the My Vote My Voice campaign.
As I remind myself of the importance of exercising my right to vote, I want to take this opportunity to remind others that their voices are powerful and support is in place to help them be heard.
“Despite common misconceptions, people with additional needs are legally allowed to vote, and they are entitled to reasonable adjustments, such as bringing a carer into the polling booth to help them. I’m proud to be helping out at my local polling station this year to make sure staff know how to support voters with additional needs.
“But we can do even more to make voting a more engaging and rewarding experience for those with learning disabilities and autism. Small changes, such as making the polling card itself larger could go a long way to boosting participation. Similarly, I’ve spent several years campaigning for larger versions of the maps which direct voters to their polling station, as the current ones are extremely difficult to use for those who would benefit from easy-read alternatives.
“These relatively small changes would have a big impact, improving the experience of voting for many people with learning disabilities and autism. And that’s something we should be encouraging – everyone has a right to vote and everyone has a right to have their voice heard.
“So that’s my message to those who don’t vote, or who don’t vote yet. It’s an empowering thing to do, particularly for the very first time.”
Dr Mark Brookes MBE is an Advocacy Lead at Dimensions. In 2019, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Law from the University of Kent, and is one of the first people in the country who has a learning disability to receive such an award.
Following a challenging childhood, Mark moved to London with the support of his brother and sister, where he lived with his brother. Here, Mark helped to set up a People First Group – an important group run by and for people with learning disabilities, where Mark was supported to speak up and helped others share their stories.
It was only as an adult living in London that Mark found out that he had a right to vote.
Mark joined Dimensions over 12 years ago as a Quality Checker and has continued to climb the ladder ever since. Drawing on his own experiences, Mark has helped change the law on decision-making for disabled people, spoken at conferences across the world and trained more than 1,000 police officers.