“What if all people had to do a test to vote?” – Inclusion Europe board member Harry Roche speaks to EU leaders at Disability Parliament

``What if all people had to do a test to vote?`` - Inclusion Europe board member Harry Roche speaks to EU leaders at Disability Parliament

Harry Roche addressing delegates of the 4th European Parliament of Persons with Disabilities

Picture: European Disability Forum

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Around 800 delegates including several high-profile EU leaders and the record number of 200 persons with intellectual disabilities: This was the audience our board member Harry Roche adressed at the 4th European Parliament of Persons with Disabilities, which took place on Wednesday. He spoke about a topic he has been passionately campaigning for – voting rights.

“Imagine everyone would need to take a test to see if they are ‘fit to vote’. How many people would pass that test?” Harry Roche started off his speech, alluding to the case of a Spanish woman with intellectual disabilities who had been denied the right to vote.

Even though the Spanish law will be changed following pressure from the disability movement, “in 10 countries of the EU laws on legal capacity still deny people with intellectual disability the vote” – and this is just one type of blatant discrimination of people with intellectual disabilities face in Europe.

In 10 countries of the EU  people with intellectual disability are denied the right the vote

Harry Roche

“The United Nations have expressed deep concern that persons with disabilities cannot excercise their right to vote”, Harry Roche reminded the audience which included EU leaders such as the European Parliament’s President Antonio Tajani, Vice President Dimitrios Papadimoulis, Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner Marianne Thyssen, the President of the European Economic and Social Committee Gerogios Dassis, and the European Ombudswoman Emily O’Reilly.

Harry Roche listed several forms of this ongoing discrimination, for example:

  • laws on guardianship and the right to make decisions,
  • laws about who can join organisations, hold responsible positions or be elected
  • indirect discrimination like the lack of easy-to-read information about elections or the fact that parties often do not reach out to people with intellectual disabilities.
“If there is the political will, the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities works!”

But what can the European Union do to address these issues? Harry Roche had a number of suggestions, for example

  • setting standards for EU elections
  • developing and sharing expertise in reforming capacity laws
  • collecting information on the participation of people with disabilities in elections

He also asked participants to get advice and training to ensure that materials and meetings are made accessible, and meet with self-advocates and organisations that represent people with intellectual disabilities.

Most importantly, Harry Roche urged EU leaders to support the oral question on guardianship and legal capacity that was tabled by two members of the European Parliament, Maria Grapini and Olga Sehnalová, so it is placed on the Plenary agenda.

At the end of his speech, Harry Roche presented positive examples of political participation such as Sara Pickard, a woman from the United Kingdom who has Down Syndrome and is an active leader both in her community and on the international level, and Ángela Covadonga Bachiller, Spain’s first city councillor with Down Syndrome.

Self-advocate Oswald Föllerer from our member Selbstvertretungszentrum Wien also took the floor

He concluded: “I am confident that this event means the European Parliament takes these issues seriously and will make sure people with intellectual disabilities can fully exercise their rights.”

The event at the European Parliament saw a number of self-advocates taking the floor, including Oswald Föllerer from our member Selbstvertretungszentrum Wien (Austria) and Victorio Latasa from our member Plena Inclusión (Spain).

Read here the full speech



Easy-to-read version

Click on a word which is in bold to read what it means.


Harry Roche spoke at the 4th European Parliament  

of Persons with Disabilities.  

Harry Roche is a board member of Inclusion Europe.  


The European Parliament of Persons with Disabilities 

was on Wednesday December 6th 


At the Parliament there were 800 people.  

There were 200 people with intellectual disabilities there.  

This is a record number.  


There were also some important people from the European Union  

in the audience.  

This included the President of the European Parliament, 

some Commissioners, and the President of the EESC.


Harry spoke about voting rights for people with intellectual disabilities.  


He opened his speech by asking: Imagine everyone  

would need to take a test to see if they are fit to vote. 

How many people would pass that test? 


A Spanish woman with an intellectual disability was asked to take a test

to see if she could vote.

In the end, she was not not allowed to vote.  


The law will now change in Spain. 

But there are still 10 countries in the European Union where some people with intellectual disability are not allowed to vote.  

People with intellectual disabilities are often not allowed to vote  

because they do not have legal capacity 


When people with intellectual disabilities are not
allowed to vote, this is discrimination 


Harry said in his speech that the United Nations 

is very concerned that people with disabilities often cannot vote.  


Harry also talked about other types of discrimination  

against people with intellectual disabilities. 

For example:  

  • Laws on guardianship and decision-making. 
  • Laws about who can join organisations or be elected. 
  • Lack of accessible information in Easy-to-Read about elections. 
  • Many politicians do not reach out to people with intellectual disabilities.  


Harry explained what the European Union can do to help stop this discrimination.  


Harry said that the EU could set standards for how elections  

should go to include people with intellectual disabilities.  

He also said that the EU should change legal capacity laws  

and should also collect information about how people with disabilities 

participate in elections 


Harry also asked participants to get advice and training to make sure 

that information and meetings are made accessible. 

To do this Harry suggested that politicians and political parties  

get advice from people with intellectual disabilities  

and the organisations that represent them.  


Most importantly Harry told EU leaders to support  

the question on guardianship and legal capacity 

This question was brought up by two MEPs Maria Grapini  

and Olga Sehnalová. 

Inclusion Europe hopes that the question will soon be discussed  

by the European Parliament.   


At the end of his speech Harry talked about some good examples  

of political participation of people with intellectual disabilities.  


Harry talked about Sara Pickard who is a self-advocate 

from the United Kingdom.  

Sara is a leader in her community and also internationally.  


Harry also talked about Ángela Covadonga Bachiller.  

Ángela is Spain’s first city councillor with Down’s Syndrome.  


Harry also said:  

I am confident that this event means that 

the European Parliament takes these issues seriously.  

I am confident that the European Parliament 

will make sure people with intellectual disabilities  

can fully exercise their rights.  


Self-advocate Oswald Föllerer from our member Austrian member 

Selbstvertretungszentrum Wien also spoke.  


Self-advocate Victorio Latasa from our Spanish member Plena Inclusión also spoke.