The European elections in May are our topic of the year 2019!
We are talking about how to make voting accessible for people with intellectual disabilities and family members – and why it is important to vote!
Every month we interview one of our “Voting champions”: People who are active in reclaiming the right to vote, who talk to politicians about voting accessibility and who encourage others to cast their ballot.
Our Voting Champion in February is Andreas Zehetner.
Andreas Zehetner is a member of the steering group of the European Platform of Self-Advocates. He is a self-advocate with our Austrian member Lebenshilfe. Andreas has been advocating for accessibility in different areas of life for a long time.
In Austria, since 1988 people under guardianship have the right to vote. The “Disability Equality Act“ advocates and recommends information in easy-to-read. What still needs to be improved in Austria so that voting becomes more accessible?
There are still things that need to change. For example, all polling stations must be accessible. At the moment you sometimes have to climb stairs. Mostly ramps are already installed. Information about the elections is now more understandable than before. But there is still a lot to when it comes to easy-to-read.
How do you encourage people with learning difficulties to vote in Austria?
In Austria, the elections to the European Parliament will take place on 26 May 2019. I inform the people with learning difficulties that I have to deal with:
- my housemates at the residential building Wiener Neudorf (at our meetings)
- my colleagues at the sheltered workshop (at the meeting of the group spokespeople)
- the self-advocates at the Forum Selbstvertretung
- at the self-advocates‘ advisory board of Lebenshilfe Austria.
We talk about why it is important to participate in the elections.
You took part in the Zero Project Conference Forum “Voting and Political Participation for People with Learning Disabilities.” What did you talk about there?
Self-advocates agree that all people with disabilities have the right to vote. That means that when it comes to my life, I have to be able to have a say. Participation is important for an inclusive society. Participation and voting rights are also part of the European Disability Strategy. We talked about the phased plan for this strategy:
The first stage is “being there”.
For example, accessibility, barrier-free rooms, assistance and support for people with disabilities, and cooperation.
The second stage is “be informed”.
That is, information must be available to all. For example, through easy-to-understand language, translation for language minorities and other aids. There are already good examples, for example the Capito app. With the app you can scan difficult texts with the phone and translate them into easy-to-read.
The third stage is “say your opinion, have a say”.
That means there must be opportunities for me to speak my mind. For example, in surveys, polls, forums, in discussions and meetings. Or as an expert in one’s own case on certain committees.
The fourth stage is “codecision, counseling, voting”.
The right to vote is a right for every citizen. You can vote for example in local elections, presidential elections, EU elections, election of self-advocates, etc.
The fifth stage is “deciding”
That is, when we vote, we determine who makes laws.
At the end of the conference there was a discussion round on the question: “What do you need to be able to have a say?”
It is very important that you are able to listen and have the courage to say something. It also requires self-confidence and a goal that you keep in mind. You need groups you work with and you need to network with other organisations, including organisations in other countries.
Information must be available in easy language and then reach those concerned. We should also think of the deaf and visually impaired so that they are not excluded.
Soon there will be elections to the European Parliament. Why is it important for you to participate in these elections?
Across Europe there are 7 million people with intellectual disabilities. It is important that we are well represented in the European Parliament. The self-advocates visited the European Parliament on 6 December 2017 and spoke up to ensure that the European Disability Strategy 2020-2030 is adopted. It is important that it is implemented now.
Our January Voting Champion was László Bercse:
“For me it is very important to vote in the European elections“