1.THE RIGHT TO VOTE AND BE ELECTED.
- Do visually impaired (hereafter VI) people suffer any restrictions to their rights to vote and/or to be elected? If yes, give details.
In France VI people have always had the same voting rights as any other citizen. Only those suffering from additional disabilities which justify them being placed under a protective regime (legal guardian) are disqualified, but a judge may however give them the right to vote with a specific decision. Similarly, there are no legal restrictions preventing a VI person from being a candidate in any election, unless, as above, an additional disability means they have been placed under a protective regime.
During election campaigns what measures are taken to ensure that VI people are ensured full autonomy concerning the availability of information distributed by candidates, access to pre-electoral meetings, access to different campaign media?
As a general rule VI people with no other disabilities (physical, for example) do not experience any particular difficulties in attending pre-electoral meetings, except when these are held in the suburbs of large cities, which do not always have good public transport. In this case special transport services are often laid on.
However, although considerable efforts were made during the recent elections (presidential and parliamentary of May-June 2012), the accessibility of information in electronic forms (internet sites, blogs) or traditional media (flyers, programmes) is still very relative. The WAI rules are not respected, colour contrast and character size remain insufficient, recorded or braille documents are exceptions to the rule. Listening to radio or television broadcasts poses no particular problems. This year, for the first time, the official party political broadcasts are shown with audio description on the public TV channels.
- Are special measures put in place to ensure that polling stations are accessible to VI people?
The law of 11 February 2005 "for equal rights and opportunities, participation and citizenship of disabled people" (hereafter the law of 2005) states specifically that: "polling stations and voting methods must be accessible to persons with disabilities, regardless of the type of disability, including physical, sensory, mental or psychological". In practice, it is rare that guide strips are installed in buildings to direct VI people to polling stations; it is rare that information panels use sufficiently large characters and contrasts.
- Within polling stations, what measures are taken to ensure that VI people can exercise their rights in an autonomous and confidential manner?
The Electoral Code, modified by the law of 2005 mentioned above, and by a decree of 20 October 2006 states that: "the President of the polling station take all appropriate measures to facilitate independent voting for persons with disabilities". He can, notably, organise third-party assistance for disabled people requesting this at the polling station. Posters in large characters and more rarely in braille are sometimes placed in front of pile of ballot slips to indicate the names of the candidates, but this remains a rare practice. The ballots are printed in typeface size 16 and all the same colour with little contrast with the surface on which they are displayed. It should be noted however that in France each elector receives by post all the ballots which will be present in the polling station a few days before the vote, which allows VI people to prepare their vote with a person of the choosing, by keeping, for example, in a their pocket, the one ballot that they will need and which they can then place in the envelope once in the booth.
- In the case of proportional elections (by lists of candidates), what measures are taken to ensure that VI people can exercise their rights in an autonomous and confidential manner?
- Are their measures in place to assist VI people in the polling booths and when casting their vote in the urns?
As mentioned above, an elector can prepare the ballot at home before going to the polling station. Also, a VI person can request the assistance of a third party in the booth or when placing their envelope in the urn. No other specific measures are taken, but it is preferable that there should be bright lighting in at least one booth for each polling station. Finally, to allow VI people to sign the register after having placed their envelope in the urn, a signature guide with colour contrast (cut-out in a plastic ruler) is normally available in each polling station.
- Are voting machines in place in your country? If yes, please detail how these are made accessible to VI people.
In France, voting machines are only used in a very limited number of polling stations. Since the law of 2005, the Electoral Code Electoral states that such machines must “allow persons with disabilities to vote independently, regardless of their disability.” At this moment in time we do not have significant experience in this matter.
2. PARTICIPATION IN NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANISATIONS AND ASSOCIATIONS CONCERNED WITH THE PUBLIC AND POLITICAL LIFE OF THE COUNTRY, AND IN THE ACTIVITIES AND ADMINISTRATION OF POLITICAL PARTIES.
- Can VI people in your country participate in an unrestricted manner in political parties, unions, public and political organisations and associations?
As for any other citizen, VI people in France can be members of political parties, trade unions and associations which are part of the political or public life of the country. If they were refused this on the grounds of their disability it would an infraction punishable by law. However it remains difficult to obtain positions of high office in such organisations due to both competition from the high number of candidates and also to the prejudices concerning disabilities which are still prevalent among the general public.
- Are their VI people in who have been elected to political, trade-union or associative office in your country?
Once again, there are no legal barriers, but in reality the only posts to which VI people have genuine access are at municipal level. Four or five mayors of small agglomerations are blind and even one deputy to the mayor of Paris. This is still not the case for regional councillors, the recent attempt by a blind person to stand for the parliamentary elections failed due to the fact that they did not gain the investiture of their political party.
- Do VI people in your country have unrestricted access to administrative office, including at top-level?
With the exception of certain positions requiring specific attributes (police and army…) VI people can, if they have the required level, participate in all competitive examinations and progress with the administration. Several blind people have been admitted to the prestigious National Administration School (ENA) and occupy high-level posts in ministries or local government.
3. FORMING AND JOINING ORGANISATIONS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES.
- Please give an overview of the number/type of associations or organisations representing VI people in your country.
In France, VI people are represented by a number of associations designed to help them or represent them in diverse domains: professional, culture/leisure activities, socio-medical institutions, daily life… One confederation, the CFPSAA, founded in 1948, has as its main objective to regroup the main organisations and thus provide one single contact between VI people and the authorities.
What is the role played by these associations in representing VI people?
The law of 2005 reinforced considerably the role of associations representing persons with disabilities by allowing them to participate in different bodies which make decisions concerning them. The most important are:
- The « Commission des Droits et de l'Autonomie des Personnes Handicapées » (commission for the rights and independence of people with disabilities) which attributes, within each department, social benefits and refers people with disabilities to specialized institutions or orientates them in the professional environment;
- commissions responsible for checking the accessibility of public, in each department, or any municipality of over 5,000 inhabitants;
- the Conseil National Consultatif des Personnes Handicapées (National Consultancy Council for People with Disabilities) who must be consulted before the publication of any text pertaining to the law of 2005, and is the permanent contact of the government for all disability-related questions.
VI associations play an important role in these commissions in spite of the fact that the state offers them no specific means of so-doing: their members are not paid, and transport costs are rarely covered by the institution concerned.
- How are VI people included in associations representing them?
The level of participation of VI people in the associations which represent them differs widely from one association to another. More often than not national and local directors are elected by VI people in General Assemblies. These directors are often VI people. The direction of these associations is debated during General Assemblies. VI people are kept informed via newsletters; web sites are also developing and allow for regular exchanges of information.