The right to political participation and the right to vote are fundamental rights for all citizens. They are at the heart of democracy and citizenship. they are also rights enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD)that the European Union (EU) and all its Member States (except Ireland) have ratified, meaning they are obliged to make it happen for all their citizens with disabilities. In reality, however, millions of people with disabilities in Europe are deprived from exercising this fundamental right. Women with disabilities, people with disabilities living in institutions and people with less visible disabilities, such as intellectual or psychosocial disabilities, are at even higher risk of being excluded.
85.000 people in Germany are not allowed to vote. These are people with dementia and people with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities.
This crucial issue was discussed extensively during EDF’s Board meeting which took place in Estonia, hosted by the Estonian Chamber of the Disabled People and supported by the Estonian Presidency of the EU.
EDF members exchanged their experiences and knowledge concerning the situation on the right to vote in their countries. Some of the examples that EDF members gave during the discussion are:
"In Lithuania, 60 per cent of the polling stations are not accessible. The rest are supposed to be accessible but in practice they may not be."
"85.000 people in Germany are not allowed to vote. These are people with dementia and people with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities".
"In Hungary, 56.000 people with disabilities are under guardianship and 48.000 among them are not allowed to vote."
"In many EU countries, people with disabilities are locked in institutions and they are not allowed to vote; they are not even aware that elections are taking place."
Even if people with disabilities have the legal right to vote in some countries, lack of accessibility makes it impossible for them in practice. There are often inaccessible polling stations, lack of documents and information in accessible formats such as Braille, Sign Language or Easy-To-Read, complicated processes, lack of awareness about disability and accessibility etc.
"In Portugal, people with intellectual disabilities, cannot vote because information is not provided to them in accessible ways that they can understand, like Easy-To-Read."
"In Hungary, the accessible polling stations can be very far from where you live making it difficult for people with disabilities to reach them to exercise their right."
The UN Committee which monitors the work that EU and its Member States do to implement the CRPD has repeatedly pointed out the violation of the right to political participation and the right to vote for persons with disabilities in most EU member States. In some countries around the world, it sometimes took a court decision for public authorities to finally start revising the legislation and stop voting discrimination.
In view of the upcoming European elections in 2019, EDF is campaigning for the right to political participation and the right to vote. We call on the European Parliament and all governments in Europe to revise their laws and procedures to ensure that all people with disabilities to exercise their right to vote and stand for elections, like everyone else.
EDF is working closely with the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) providing input for a report that EESC prepares on this topic. EESC rapporteur of this report, Krzysztof Pater, attended EDF board in Estonia and presented the work made on the report so far.
"The right to vote is not only a fundamental right, but also an issue of dignity", Krzysztof Pater said underlining that discrimination occurs when some citizens have full rights and others partial rights.
EESC rapporteur also asked EDF members to provide EESC with their expertise in order to have a rich report that shows the real situation on the right to vote in Europe. Krzysztof Pater plans to adopt his report early 2018.
REHACARE.com; Source: European Disability Forum (EDF)