Press Release

More people with disabilities can vote but barriers remain

Hands placing a vote into a ballot box.
Many EU countries have made it easier for people with disabilities to vote in elections, finds the latest report from the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). But some groups still face considerable barriers when it comes to voting and standing for elections. The report looks at best practices and suggests how to ensure people with disabilities have their say at election time.

One in 4 people in the EU have a disability. Of these, over 800,000 EU citizens could not vote in the 2019 European Parliament elections because of their disability. FRA’s report ‘Political participation of people with disabilities in the EU’ examines recent developments and highlights recent progress as well as ongoing challenges, such as:

  • Legal restrictions: laws in seven countries (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Malta, Poland, Portugal and Romania) still automatically exclude people under legal guardianship from voting. However, several countries removed voting restrictions based on legal capacity, particularly for people with intellectual and psycho-social disabilities. Instead, they offer support in voting or assess each person case-by-case.
  • Accessibility: accessibility standards, especially for polling stations, websites and broadcasters, have made it easier for people to vote. However, people with visual, hearing or intellectual disabilities still face considerable barriers, such as a lack of tactile voting devices, information in Braille, audio or easy read formats.
  • Rights awareness: 17 EU countries now have disability strategies that specifically address political participation. But systematic and meaningful consultation with disability organisations is often lacking.
  • Political participation: administrative barriers to obtaining information, registering to vote and obtaining support during elections still persists in some countries.

The report suggests ways to ensure everyone’s rights are respected. These include:

  • Lifting restrictions on the right to vote and stand for elections.
  • Making voting, facilities and election materials more accessible.
  • Providing disability awareness training for election authorities and involving disability organisations in training and throughout the election process.
  • Removing administrative barriers to political participation and better supporting people so they can cast their vote.
  • Measuring the political participation of people with disabilities through data collection.

The report also identifies promising practices. These include accessible campaigns, action plans for public broadcasters, as well as providing dedicated transport to facilitate voting.

All EU countries and the EU itself have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It enshrines the right to political participation for people with disabilities. In addition, the EU’s Disability Strategy seeks to mobilise countries to deliver on these rights. 

Quote from FRA Director Sirpa Rautio: “Being able to vote and stand for election is a key element of well-functioning democracies. But too many people with disabilities continue to be denied this basic right. While there is progress, there is still work to be done to overcome persisting challenges so that all the voices of people with disabilities are heard in elections.”

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