I grew up in Canada but I have lived in Belgium one third of my life.
I never faced accessibility challenges in the democratic process: the buildings and voting stations were always accessible. It was always a good experience, and I was always able to vote.
For the recent local elections, the Brussels-Capital Region prepared a great guide on how to ensure that voting stations are accessible and on how to support persons with disabilities during voting.
Not all is positive though: the electronic voting system (with a tactile screen) was not accessible for blind and partially sighted users. It would be quite easy, however, to add audio features.
In Brussels 83% percent of voting stations were accessible – that’s pretty good but it should be 100%.
In these elections I also noticed problems with access to information. Political parties don’t seem to be concerned with making their materials accessible – many people with disabilities weren’t as informed as they wish. Accessible information is critical to the democratic process and ensures that people can make an informed choice.
Growing up in Canada, I was always very politically active – environmental issues, women’s rights, disability rights, nuclear disarmament.
When I arrived Belgium, I wanted to get involved at a local level. I helped create neighbourhood committees that brought people together around common causes.
I also got involved in promoting democracy. In Belgium, non-nationals can only vote in local elections. We are one third of the population in Brussels and we should have a voice at all levels of decision-making. I am one of the founders of the campaign 1Bru1Vote which advocates for the right for non-nationals to vote at the regional (metropolitan) level in Brussels – this is where decisions are taken about mobility, air quality and urban planning, for example. I was also actively involved in a campaign to encourage non-nationals to make use of their existing right to vote in the recent local elections.
We need to work on many levels towards a more inclusive society, and this means ensuring that everyone – persons with disabilities, women, non-nationals can participate in democracy. It is all part of the same challenge.
This is also why I accepted to join the Ecolo-Groen list and run for city councillor where I live. I ran as an independent, as part of civil society. We had a great result: I was elected and Ecolo-Groen now has the majority in the city council.
Local authorities in Belgium have a lot of responsibilities, including infrastructure, public spaces, local services, education. By the end of my mandate I hope to see more citizen participation. I hope to make my district, Ixelles, more inclusive. It’s not just about being more accessible but it’s also about awareness training on the needs of persons with disabilities. You will see a real difference by 2024.”