Record numbers of people with intellectual disabilities will be able to go to the polls for the first time at European elections due to changes implemented during the last 12 months in the three bigger countries – France, Germany and Spain – during the last 12 months, as The Parliament magazine and Inclusion Europe report.
These three have recently adapted their legislation to grant people under guardianship the right to vote. They joined countries like Denmark, Ireland and Slovakia, which all opened up voting rights since the last European elections in 2014.
An estimated 250,000 people are affected, with 100,000 in Spain alone, 80,000 in Germany and 65,000 in France previously deprived of their voting rights, according to a report by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA).
The changes constitute an “important step to recognise people with intellectual disabilities as fully-fledged citizens, with the same rights as everybody else”, said Jyrki Pinomaa, president of Inclusion Europe.
What causes EU member states to revise their legislation? According to the FRA report, “legal capacity has been a focus of reforms at the national level linked to ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)”. Ratified by all EU member states and the EU itself, the convention recognises the equal participation of people with disabilities in political and public life, including the right to vote and be elected.
Certainly, greater awareness of discrimination suffered by people with disabilities and advocacy by disability rights organisations (who have pressured for voting rights in all countries that changed their laws) also plays a pivotal role.
“In many cases, it is people with intellectual disabilities themselves who lead the way to change”, says Pinomaa. An example is Martin Rosenlind. At the time the Dane applied for getting a guardian because of problems handling his finances, he had no idea that this would affect his right to vote. Fed up with the situation in 2015, he decided to sue the Danish state, and went as far as the Supreme Court. He lost his case, which made him feel “sad and excluded”. But in December 2018 the government decided to make an amendment to the Guardianship Act to allow persons under guardianship to partially retain their legal capacity: Martin Rosenlind regained his right to vote.
However, according to a report by the European Economic and Social Committee, 500,000 people in the EU are still deprived of their right to vote. 5 EU member states are automatically denying the right to vote to people under guardianship and 10 leave the decision up to an individual assessment by a judge or guardian.
Autism-Europe joins Inclusion Europe in its demands to change and asks all countries to ensure elections are accessible, for example by providing information about the elections in easy-to-read language: “People with intellectual disabilities value their right to vote, maybe more than anyone else. So we should make sure they can exercise it.”