Political Parties should demonstrate a concrete commitment to inclusion of persons with disabilities

8 November 2017
Speakers of the hearing

On 8 November 2017, the Disability Intergroup of the European Parliament, in collaboration with EDF and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), gathered experts, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), DPOs, disability rights activists, representatives of international organisations and of political party support organizations to talk about the involvement of persons with disabilities by political parties. The event was hosted by MEP Helga Stevens, co-President of the Disability Intergroup.

Helga Stevens opened the meeting by stating that “making politics and political life more diverse and more inclusive is a joint responsibility for all of us: citizens, political parties, members of European, national and regional parliaments, ministers and governments. A concerted effort and a set of concrete measures are needed to make politics more inclusive. This is not only about running in elections, but also about participation in political activities and meetings and access to information and debates, both online and offline, particularly for deaf people who use sign language, blind people and for people with learning difficulties.”

John Patrick Clarke, Vice-President of the European Disability Forum, said that ‘in a democratic society, everyone has a right to be heard. Political parties, as the main gatekeepers to access to political participation, should demonstrate a concrete commitment to inclusion and accessibility.

Tiina Kukkamaa-Bah, Chief of the ODIHR Democratic Governance and Gender Unit, declared: ‘as persons with disabilities make up approximately 15 per cent of the world’s population, it is time for political parties to acknowledge that they need to address barriers to their equal participation in political life”

Persons with disabilities are under-represented in political life, including in different political party structures.

A number of barriers prevent persons with disabilities from enjoying their right to political participation on an equal basis with others: legal barriers, a lack of accessibility, a lack of awareness, a lack of civic participation, lack of DPO participation and a lack of data. Access to information is also indispensable precondition for genuine political participation. Political rallies and electoral events, as well as broadcast election debates are rarely accessible for persons with disabilities. Programmes of political parties are very rarely available in alternative formats. This affects their possibility to become more active with a political party, as well as their right to vote.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) requires its States parties, which include the EU and 26 Member States, to work to remove these barriers. Article 29 of the CRPD explicitly requires state parties to “ensure that persons with disabilities can effectively and fully participate in political and public life on an equal basis with others, directly or through freely chosen  representatives, including the right and opportunity […] to be elected". 

Some initiatives to enable participation in political life and create more inclusive political parties were presented. Building on the speakers' presentations, here are a number of recommendations for political parties to increase the political participation of their citizens with disabilities:

  • Disseminate accessible information regarding political party platforms, public affairs and political activities (including electoral programmes), in various formats including in Braille, sign language and easy-to-read formats); ensuring that meetings are accessible for persons with disabilities.
  • Make funding available to improve access to elected office. In Scotland for instance, a public fund supports persons with disabilities to stand as candidates to public functions by covering their additional expenses. The Scottish government has also changed elections rules so political parties' campaign expenditures related to accessibility for persons with disabilities are exempted from thresholds.
  • Provide reasonable accommodation and the necessary support for persons with disabilities who want to engage with the party, from the lower to the top levels.
  • Implement public awareness campaigns about the political rights of persons with disabilities and services and programs that support political participation.
  • Consult with persons with disabilities, DPOs, and families of persons with disabilities to better understand and support their needs.
  • Consider other effective methods of bringing persons with disabilities into politics, such as quota systems, or political caucuses

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