Thibault went to a voting station in Belgium just to be turned away: as someone with intellectual disabilities, he was deprived of his right to vote.
Mindaugas needs to vote in advance, as the polling station in his area is not accessible. He is lucky that he can: in many EU countries (Portugal for example), if the polling station is not accessible wheelchair users don’t get to vote.
Danny cannot follow debates or attend political events because live captioning and sign language are not provided.
Loredana and Lars cannot vote independently because the voting process is not adapted to blind and partially sighted people.
The voting process has barriers for persons with all types of disabilities. At all stages: access to information on how to vote, access to political information, the voting day itself and even knowing the results.
This is even if you have the right to vote at all: there are still 800.000 Europeans with intellectual and/or psychosocial disabilities that are not given the right to vote due to outdated laws.
Voting is important. Voting is how we influence political change. Voting is the first step for laws that benefit persons with disabilities.
The European Parliament Elections are the ideal moment to showcase unequal access to voting: 3 days, 28 countries. Different barriers, and solutions to these barriers, will be on show at the same time.
They are an ideal moment to push for change, not only in 1, but in 28 countries at a time.
Besides, voting for the European Elections is important! Even if it’s seldom talked about, the EU pushes important laws and is often more ambitious that EU countries when it comes to inclusion of persons with disabilities.
It pushes for more accessibility of public websites, products, services and transports. It funds many projects to support inclusion of persons with disabilities, even in so-called rich countries. It created a common law for protection against discrimination at work. It ratified the Marrakesh Treaty, an important step in the fight against “book famine” of blind and partially sighted persons. And much more.
This is why the European Disability Forum campaigns extensively, not only on accessibility but on getting disability inclusion in the candidates’ agenda and, as important, in actually getting persons with disabilities to go and (try to) vote.
Our campaign started with the “European Elections for All” petition, already signed by over 30.000 people. The petition aims to show that there is widespread support to solve this problem. It is also a simple tool to explain this problem to the wider European population.
Another important tool to raise awareness is our “Voters of Europe” stories. It gives us concrete examples to explain policymakers how people are affected by their (lack of) actions.
We also provided guidelines for political parties to communicate accessibly. These guidelines, which include requests to add image descriptions in pictures, audio-description in videos and documents in braille and large print, among others, ensure that parties know which concrete actions pto take in assuring accessibility.
We are also working another angle. Not only do we need to assure that there is equal access for elections, but we also need to assure that the new crop of policymakers understands the demands of the disability movement. This is why we are also circulating the “EU for Disability Rights” pledge. The pledge asks incoming MEP to commit to disability inclusion by being part of the Disability Intergroup: an informal grouping of MEPs that advocate for disability rights.
This is also important for accessible elections, as the battle is far from won, and will require constant action for the years to come.
Finally, we come to the last and important part: election monitoring. We need to know what does not work so we know what needs to be changed. That is why we need your stories! Help us by using #DisabilityVote on social media.
Voting is the essence of democracy. But elections need to follow our motto: nothing about us without us. This is why we need to vote and, if we can’t, we need to complain, protest, make a fuss about it.
Help us make the #DisabilityVote a reality for all.
By André Felix, the European Disability Forum
The European Disability Forum is an umbrella organisation of persons with disabilities that defends the interests of over 80 million Europeans with disabilities. We are a unique platform which brings together representative organisation of persons with disabilities from across Europe. We are run by persons with disabilities and their families. We are a strong, united voice of persons with disabilities in Europe.