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.
— Milan Šveřepa (@misver) December 6, 2017
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
“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.
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).
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.
- 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.
should go to include people with intellectual disabilities.
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
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.
Our work brings the voice of people with intellectual disabilities and their families where decisions about their future are made.
This has always been incredibly important. It is even more so with the Covid pandemic drastic impact on their rights and lives.
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