On 22-25 May 2014, 500 million citizens from 28 different EU countries will have the chance to elect the 751 Members of the European Parliament, who will represent them in the next 5 years. In its recent report The right to political participation of persons with disabilities, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), outlines some of the difficulties people with disabilities have in exercising their right to political participation.
Political participation is a basic right that everyone should enjoy equally, says FRA Director Morten Kjaerum Yet, this report underlines that many barriers can undermine the democratic rights of people with disabilities. With European elections around the corner, it is a timely reminder that across the EU change is needed to allow all people with disabilities to have an equal say in the political life of our society.
Some 80 million European Union citizens have a disability. Previous FRA research showed that in a majority of Member States people with disabilities whose legal capacity has been restricted or removed are unable to vote. It also showed that many people with disabilities face barriers to participation in community life which affects the fulfilment of their rights, as enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
Therefore the EU Fundamental Rights Agency decided, together with the European Commission, to assess how the right of people with disabilities to equal participation in political life is fulfilled across the EU.
FRA report examines where legal and social barriers exist, and identifies the good practices some states have introduced that empower people with disabilities. The research, carried out in conjunction with the European Commission, through the Academic Network of European Disability Experts (ANED) collects data from across the 28 EU Member States, and shows how the right to political participation of persons with disabilities set out in Article 29 of the CRPD is respected, protected, promoted and fulfilled in the EU.
The study reveals that significant challenges remain which affect some people with disabilities more than others. These include:
- legal and administrative barriers;
- inaccessible buildings, information and processes that do not take into account the needs of people with all impairments;
- few opportunities to take part in political life due to a lack of support and engagement with disability groups; and
- a low level of awareness about the needs of people with disabilities among the various organisations involved in political processes, such as election officials, political parties and communicators.
Finally, the report makes suggestions about how to improve political participation grouped according to the following themes:
- Lifting barriers
- Making political participation more accessible
- Expanding opportunities for political participation
- Increasing rights awareness
- Collecting data to measure political participation
The FRA report also outlines a number of promising practices that could be rolled out in other Member States to help improve political participation. These range from enabling people living in institutions to vote (Finland) to developing accessible alternative forms of voting (Estonia), or setting standards for elections authorities and officials (UK).