Study circles for persons with intellectual disabilities to engage in voting
- My choice/My election
- SV Study Association Vuxenskolan
- Country of Implementation
- Northern Europe
- Start Year
- First published
“The very politics have to be made accessible.” —Kjell Stjernholm, My Choice/My Election coordinator
Studieförbundet Vuxenskolan, a Swedish NGO with branches nationwide, has created a programme that assists persons with intellectual disabilities to engage in voting. Small study circle groups learn from easy-read materials and DAISY-formatted audio texts that describe Swedish democracy and the voting process. A group leader assists by fielding questions to politicians and their parties and arranging discussions with politicians trained in easy-read. For the 2018 election there were 109 study circles, totalling some 650 people in 80 municipalities.
Many people with intellectual disabilities do not vote in elections, as they may find it difficult to understand what the vote is about and/or how to vote due to inaccessible information and complex political language.
Solution, Innovation and Impact
Persons with intellectual disabilities meet in small study circles where everyone is active and the participants themselves decide on the topics for discussion. The circles are complemented with easy-read study materials and DAISY-formatted texts (an international technical standard for digital audiobooks). A leader teaches voting practices and Swedish democracy and supports the participants to find answers to questions by gathering information from parties and the media. The leader also arranges discussions with active politicians, who are trained in easy language before entering the conversation. The study circles were first used for the 2014 elections, in which 300 participants took part across 50 groups, with 80 per cent voting. In the 2018 elections, 650 participants took part in 109 study circles, and 2,470 people with disabilities took part in 49 discussions with politicians. After receiving feedback from My choice/My election, the Swedish Democracy Commission began adding party logos to ballot papers next to the party names, thus enabling easier recognition of their party affiliation. Additionally, the mayor of Jönköping commissioned a video to explain the City Council’s most important decisions in easy-language.
Funding, Outlook and Transferability
Starting in 2018, the project has been offering online education via videos and exercises aimed for politicians to learn how to write easy read. Studieförbundet Vuxenskolan is also looking to offer further democracy information between election years via existing study circles that discuss empowerment in everyday life. The basic model is replicable and there is a willingness to share the method with other organizations, with a presentation having taken place with Inclusion International. My choice/My election was funded by the National Inheritance Fund in 2014 with €400,000, after which it was incorporated into Studieförbundet Vuxenskolan’s largely state-funded popular education programme. Some participating municipalities have also contributed smaller grants.
THE STORY OF ANNA HILDINGSSON, AN ATTENDEE OF MY CHOICE/MY ELECTION
“I found that people listened to me, and that I could speak for myself and others, and enjoyed doing so.”
My name is Anna Hildingsson. I am 52 years old, live in a small rural town called Lidkoping, and have an intellectual disability. I have voted before, but before attending My Choice/My Election I always voted like my mother and father. Not because they told me to, but because that’s how I decided what to vote upon. However, after attending My Choice/My Election in 2014, several things changed. First of all, I voted for three different parties in the elections for city, county, and national parliaments. I made my decisions based upon the general ideas of each party’s policies for that political level. I also found the easy-to-understand pre-election discussion especially helpful. Some of the party representatives acted and responded like they had really listened to us. I also found the practice of asking about and arguing my positions really helpful. I discovered that people listened to me, and that I could speak for myself and others, and enjoyed doing so. I am now the national chairperson of Inner Circle, a branch of the FUB (an organization for people with intellectual disabilities) where people with disabilities are in charge and push their own agenda. I now speak for people with intellectual disabilities in all of Sweden.