Dyspraxia & Elections

They say running for public office is one of the hardest things you can do. You need to be brave enough to put your name on the ballot, thick-skinned to deal with the abuse that you may get and have the wisdom of King Solomon to deal with the variety of issues that you will get on the door.

You also may need to recite that knowledge as if you were listing off your ABC’s. Now try accounting for all the above while also having the added issues that may arise from having Dyspraxia. The inability to read body language or spot the normal social ques, having fabric sensitivities and as a result trying to avoid wearing ties.

In 2014 I ran for county council in Ireland polling just over 401 votes and to use a horse racing term I was in “also-ran” that day.

Due to a series of events the opportunity arose again in 2019 to give it a second go. When I ran in 2014 I had laid out of plan almost a year out on the policies I was running on, I had worked on local committees to get my name out there. I had done as much as I could to give myself a step up. 2019 was the polar opposite. I was selected 3 weeks out so had no time to get a plan together. Most people I was running against were either sitting councillors or got selected 3 or 4 months out.

This time I polled 582 votes. It was still not enough to get a seat but I was 128 votes off a seat after the first count compared to 337 in 2014.

What impact did having Dyspraxia have on the 2019 campaign?

The question is not as straight forward as it could be as other factors such as lack of time also had an impact on the events.
The main items I would see impacted was my written English, time management, social ques and the ability to process information.

Written English: This is one item that haunts me daily weather in work or typing up a blog. As far as I am aware I tend to write spoken English due to my dyspraxia. My understanding for this is that my brain and hand do not communicate the way they should, as a result, I tend to speak what I am writing and type based on what I am hearing. This also leads to poor spelling as a am writing the words based on how they sound rather than the correct spelling.

This also leads to poor proofreading skills as I am reviewing how words and sentences sound rather than look. As a result during this election, there were errors on both my canvass card and a letter I dropped in one estate as the sentences sounded right but read wrong.

Time management: Normally people with Dyspraxia have very bad time management, over the years, I have gone from one extreme to the other on this. I try to do a lot of stuff now to avoid me forgetting to do something. I know well at this stage if it goes on my long finger it will never get done or I will realize at the 11th hour that it is still not done. As a result of this, I hate being late and plan my life to avoid this. With the election, my plan was to start canvassing at 7 each night. I generally finish work each day at 5.30 and get the bus home.

During the election the buses seemed to run slower than normal, as a result, I was late for some nights and in one case had to cancel a night canvassing as I was very late leaving the office and getting a bus. When this happens I stress as I feel I am letting people down, also I get distracted trying to think about how I can avoid this happening again. This leads to me knocking on fewer doors in a night or not giving the constituents the full attention at the doors which will lose you votes.

Social Ques: This is always an interesting one around understanding social norms and body language.

Two examples I give from the door on this campaign was I rarely asked for a number one vote but I spoke about why I was running and what I planned to do if elected. Would people vote differently if you use the phrase “your number 1 vote” or not while talking to them? Also on a number of doors after giving my 10-second intro a lot of people simply said “ok”. Is that ok continue or ok you have said enough? In most cases I let there be a few seconds silence and if nothing else was said I went into my stump speech until I was told otherwise. These could be issues on the campaign trail or just me overthinking.

Ability to process information: This is one I have spoken about in my blogs before. When I am trying to process information particularly if it is complex or unknown information I tend to phase out or look like I am not listening to the person. On more than a few houses this came across and the person ended the discussion thinking I was not paying attention but in fact, was processing what they were saying to try and give them an answer.

Does all the above mean someone with a learning difficulty should not run for public office? Not at all, like most things in life we just have to find a way to work with the issues so they don’t become an issue.

Written English: When I ran in 2014 I had one person on my team whose job was to proof any leaflets or letters that I sent out to ensure the English were correct. Due to the short campaign in 2019 this was not possible. If I was to run again or if giving advice to someone else who wanted to run it would be to ensure this position is staffed. Ensuring the English is correct for spelling and grammar will make the leaflets look more professional and likely to get people to vote for you.

Time management: Put a plan in place that if you don’t make it by the start time your campaign manager has leaflets and can start the canvass without you. It is not ideal but the houses will get covered and if any candidate-related queries arise, you can deal with them when you arrive.

Social Ques: With elections, I would also say have a good mentor who understands your issues and is willing to deal with the daft questions. Try canvassing with your local politician a few times and see how he deals with it over time you will get a good idea how to deal with most of the social ques and they will not be an issue going forward

Ability to process information: From running for office twice and being involved in many other campaigns from College elections to Dail Eireann elections to Referendums the one things I have learned is certain issues come up time and time again. In my last elections, half the houses either mentioned a 2 nd bridge for my town or spoke about housing. When the same topics are coming up you can create a set answer that deals with the question they may have a follow-up but it will be nowhere near as hard as the main question. For the other questions where you do not have a set answer show the person, you are listening to them before you look for the answer. This can be done by saying something like that’s a good question about X, give me a moment to think about it or I have not actually got that question before can I think about it and come back to you.

Having someone with a learning difficulty serving public office can be very worthwhile as they will have unique ways of looking at things and will bring fresh ideas to the table. As far as I know, Ireland is yet to elect a Dyspraxic politician but I have not given up hope on one getting elected soon.

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  1. Interesting read. I have 30 years experience of campaigning in elections as campaign worker campaign manager and candidate. Was diagnosed with dyspraxia only recently. I liked elections as i could focus entirley on the election, forget about “normal ife” Often struggled with layout or content of literature but usually found a colleague who would help.I found the structure of election campaigns helpful although often let people down due to forgetting to do things etc. I just worked harder than most to make up for it. Keep at it persistence pays off.


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Philip Slattery
Philip is a tax consultant from Kildare, Ireland. He was diagnosed aged 12. It confirmed his mother's thoughts that he had a learning difficulty. When not working he is an avid Toastmaster and runner. He has a 5k personal best of 19mins 20 secs.
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