Roundtable

How can co-production improve the political participation of persons with disabilities?

On the 19th of November, the Taskforce ‘Support Services of Tomorrow’ and Member of European Parliament Pascal Durand co-organised a roundtable in the European Parliament to discuss political participation of persons with disabilities and to present the results of a study on this topic, commissioned by the Taskforce.

The Taskforce is a formal cooperation between COFACE Families Europe, the European Association of Service providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD), the European Disability Forum (EDF), the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL), Inclusion Europe and Mental Health Europe (MHE-SME). These organisations have committed to provide a common understanding on the direction support services should take to enable full inclusion. This is done through co-production, an inclusive working practice between experts by experience (users), organisations of support, public authorities and, if relevant, families and other stakeholders. Its ultimate goal is the delivery of a service, policy or activity that is responsive to the individual’s needs and preferences in line with the principles of the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

The EU is the most democratic part of the world and still about 800 000 EU citizens from 16 Member States are deprived by law of their right to vote due to their disabilities or mental health problems. Of the persons with disabilities who can vote, only a small percentage exercises this right, due to lack of information, support, transport and reasonable accommodation. The Taskforce decided, thus, to gather information on voting rights for persons with disabilities in Europe and delivered the report “Promising practices on support models to ensure the right to vote for all”.

The qualitative study was conducted in France, Belgium, Malta and Czech Republic and was presented by one of its authors, Elma Paulauskaite, from the Policy Impact Lab. The report identified several barriers to the political participation of persons with disabilities, including attitudes, national legislations, physical accessibility and lack of data. Some good practices were highlighted including support to mobility, adapted information and in changes in legislation such as opening up the right to vote to persons under guardianship (in France, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Ireland and Slovakia). The report suggested that the systematic involvement of organisations representing persons with disabilities in the policy-making process is a first necessary step to improve this situation.

Participants agreed that persons with disabilities face discrimination as regards political participation. Member of European Parliament Tilly Metz stated: “Denying the right to vote to people with disabilities is a real democratic deficit. This needs to change, and it needs to change now.” The strongest barrier is the denial of the right to vote due to restrictions of legal capacity. This still happens in many member states, despite the fact that Article 12 of the UNCRPD declares that disability alone does not justify the deprivation of legal capacity. State Parties are in the process of changing this, but with heterogeneous results.

Lack of accessibility and reasonable accommodation in voting stations are preventing the vote of persons with reduced mobility and with sensorial impairments. Accessible polls, training for polling station staff and offering multiple channels for voting were recommended in the report.

Political participation is not only about voting, but also about being able to follow the political discourse and then make an informed choice. Today it is still an exception to find Easy to Read and accessible political contents.

The Taskforce members called the EU and the European Parliament to lead by example, by putting the right to political participation high on the agenda of the disability intergroup, by including voting rights on the agenda for the next Disability Strategy and by allocating funds to facilitate the process.

For more information, please contact Irene Bertana: ibertana@coface-eu.org

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