European Parliament debate: what prevents people with disabilities taking part in elections
Ahead of the European elections, a debate at the European Parliament on Thursday 5 July highlighted issues surrounding the political participation of people with disabilities. Speakers from the European Parliament and the European Commission raised key matters of accessibility.
The debate followed a request in March this year, by Cecilia Wikström, who is a member of the European Parliament (MEP) and the Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Petitions. In her oral question, MEP Wikström asked the Commission if it could give an overview of its plans to make the elections accessible for all.
“The right to vote must be enjoyed by everyone,” affirmed Věra Jourová, European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, during the debate. “This is inscribed in the European Disability Strategy.” Yet people with disabilities are still being denied the right to vote and stand in elections, she stated.
Furthermore, political participation is an essential part of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), reminded Soledad Cabezón Ruiz, MEP (Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats). While the EU is currently the only region in the world to have ratified the Convention, Ángela Vallina, MEP (Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left) noted that there are “shortcomings” in applying the UN CRPD on matters of political participation, especially when it comes to persons with intellectual disabilities.
Accessibility came up as a primary concern in ensuring the political participation of people with disabilities. Currently, people with disabilities encounter many kinds of obstacles to participating in politics. There are physical barriers, such as getting to and using polling booths. In addition to the requirement for practical support for people to get to the polls, there is potential for more people to get involved in elections using technology.
There are particular barriers to overcome for people with intellectual disabilities to participate in politics. For example, information how to sign up to the electoral register and how to vote is often difficult to understand.
There needs to be accessible information about elections. Easy-to-read information could be key to letting people know about political developments, so they can decide what they think and make their voices heard.
Denial of the right to vote
Furthermore, legal barriers mean that many people are not allowed to have a say in politics. “Being able to participate in politics is at the core of a democratic Europe, yet guardianships prevent people from doing so,” pointed out Tilly Metz, MEP (Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance). People with disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, should legally be allowed to vote.
The debate concluded with a reiteration of the need for the upcoming European elections to be accessible for people with disabilities. Members of Inclusion Europe are working to address the current physical, informational, and legal barriers. It is critical that people with disabilities can exercise their right to vote.
Learn more about our recommendations for accommodating diversity in European elections here.
Watch the Plenary session on the political participation of persons with disabilities in the European elections here.