Time to break down the voting barriers for people with disabilities

Next year the elections at the European Parliament will be an opportunity for millions of Europeans to have their say in how Europe should be run. However, many people with disabilities face barriers in exercising this basic right.

On the International Day of People with Disabilities on 3 December, FRA reaffirms its commitment to helping to break down these barriers to open the doors for people with disabilities so that their voices are heard in democratic processes. FRA’s work on the political participation of people with disabilities already suggests some possible ways forward.

"In a fully-fledged democratic society, political participation is vital. It allows citizens to influence policy and decision making. But it is also a basic right that many people with disabilities simply do not fully enjoy," said FRA Director, Morten Kjærum. "As 2013 is the European Year of Citizens, we must act now to lift the barriers to participation. This will help to ensure that the votes of people with disabilities count in shaping tomorrow’s Europe through the elections for the next European Parliament."

In practice this means removing legal barriers to voting for people with disabilities, in particular those who live in long-term institutions or who have psychosocial or intellectual disabilities as FRA’s report of 2010 revealed. Election authorities should also ensure training is given to meet the needs of people with different types of disabilities. This includes making instructions for voting understandable for people with different types of disabilities and making polling stations accessible. In addition, political parties should make their manifestos and campaign material available in accessible formats such as large print, braille, easy-to-read and audio versions.

FRA continues to work alongside its partners in the EU institutions and Member States, and with civil society, including disabled persons’ organisations, to promote the rights of people with disabilities. The agency is currently engaged in developing indicators on the political participation of people with disabilities. This work is measuring the extent to which people with disabilities participate in political life, particularly through voting and standing for election, across the 28 EU Member States. Although the full results are not expected until April 2014, the preliminary findings indicate that Member States should take steps now to ensure people with disabilities can exercise their right to vote and take part in the European Parliament elections in May 2014, in line with their rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.