Disability Intergroup: EU Elections key to advance voting rights of persons with disabilities

4 February 2019

On the 30 January, disability advocates, politicians, and policymakers from several institutions discussed the challenges to political participation of persons with disabilities, during a seminar in the European Parliament.

MEPs Helga Stevens, Ádám Kósa and Marek Plura hosted this seminar, which was followed by the Intergroup’s New Years reception.

MEP Kósa opened the event by asserting the main goals for the disability movement: an accessible election process, and measures that allow persons with disabilities to stand for elections in an equal basis with others.

He was followed by Mr Rodolfo Cattani, EDF Vice-president.  Mr Cattani reasserted that political participation of persons with disabilities is essential and to that effect, the political process needs to be accessible. He reminded the audience that the EU signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and that the current European Parliament had an important role in advancing the rights of persons with disabilities: through legislating the European Pillar of Social Rights and the Web Accessibility Directive, in particular. He finished by thanking the Disability Intergroup members for their work during the mandate.

Many challenges to full political participation

MEP Stevens moderated the first panel on the right to vote for persons with disabilities in Europe., which included representatives of the European Economic and Social Committee, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, as well as Adolfo Barroso, a Spanish citizen who had to go to court to get his right to vote.

Mr Krzysztof Pater presented the results of an upcoming report from the European Economic and Social Committee on the real right to vote of persons in disabilities in Europe. The main conclusions indicate that about half a million EU citizens still do not have the right to vote due to their disability; that in all EU Member States there are arrangements that exclude persons with disabilities from voting; and that in 18 EU Member States, blind voters cannot vote independently.

Ms Anete Erdman, presented the results of the report “Persons with  Disabilities and Ensuring their Right to Participate in Political and Public Life“ by the  Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights - Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The Office also identified main challenges to political participation: the impact of stereotypes, especially how the medical model of disability precludes participation of persons with disabilities;  lack of accessibility; lack of access to education; lack of funds to promote political rights; and poverty.

She was followed by Ms Martha Sticking from the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights. She revealed that the agency is going to release a updated version of their 2014 report “The right to political participation of persons with disabilities”.  The report includes 5 key drivers of reform to a more inclusive political process: courts (often litigation has been instrumental to return legal voting rights to persons with disabilities); the interpretation and recommendations of the CRPD committee; National strategies that include political participation of persons with disabilities; National CRPD monitoring frameworks; and advocacy by civil society organisations and organisations of persons with disabilities.  

The last panelist was Adolfo Barroso, a Spanish citizen that had to go to court to gain back his right to vote. He recounted how he only discovered that he could not vote when he went to the polling station, the fact that he had to answer questions like “what is the speed of light?” during the assessment to get back his voting rights and how he could only cast is first vote in 2018, more than 10 years after is first try in 2007.

Opportunities in upcoming EU Elections 

MEP Plura moderated the second panel “The way forward- promoting equal participation”. The panel focused especially on how the upcoming European Elections could improve political participation.

The first panellist, Mr Stephen Clark presented the European Parliament’s “This Time I’m Voting” campaign. The campaign aims to encourage European citizens to vote by showing how the EU benefits them.

The second panellist, Mr Pat Clarke presented EDF’s European Elections campaign, the #DisabilityVote campaign, which includes guidelines for accessible political campaigns,  a series of stories from voters with disabilities, the European Elections for All petition and political meetings about EDF’s manifesto.

The third panellist was Nora Bednarski, a recently-elected City Councillor of the Commune Ixelles.

She shared her experience as a candidate and now councillor with disabilities, underlining that accessibility is still an issue. She explained that the city council is headquartered in an 19th century mansion that is not accessible for wheelchair users, and how it will take 5 years for a new accessible building to be completed.

MEP Plura closed the meeting with a call to all stakeholders: assure that persons with disabilities can fully participate in the political process, sooner rather than 

Email this page
Subscribe to