Stairs, locked doors, and wrong templates: EU Elections still inaccessible

5 June 2019

When Sarah Rennie arrived at the polling station, she was met with locked doors and a broken bell. That’s because Sarah could not enter through the main entrance, as it was not step free.

This is just one of the many examples of inaccessible voting that the European Disability Forum collected after the elections. The truth is that, while these European Elections have shown huge improvements in terms of voting for persons with disabilities (with persons with intellectual disabilities being able to vote in for the first time in France, Denmark and Germany and second time in Spain), legal and practical problems still exist in most EU countries. These problems create difficulties, distress and make what should be a simple process turn into an ordeal for persons with disabilities.

The European Disability Forum collected more than 20 complaints, both through social media and a survey, of problems to vote in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Romania.

The complaints focused mostly on lack of independent voting by blind and partially sighted people and on the physical inaccessibility of the polling place, voting station and voting booths themselves by persons with reduced mobilities.

They included Philippa Wiseman, who could not vote due to very narrow steps on a polling station in a old building in East Dumbartonshire, Scotland. It also includes Romanian Daniela Tontsch, a wheelchair use who was assigned a voting station in a second floor without elevator. In Italy, Maria Chiara Paolini needs to travel further from her home than most just to find an accessible polling station. Not to talk about some voters from Malaga, that are presented with a poor excuse for a ramp.

Again in the United Kingdom, blind voters don’t have the right to a secret vote, as Dr Amir Patel and Dr Amy Kavanagh show. In Ireland, several persons complained that the braille templates didn’t align well with the paper ballots: leaving blind people at a loss of where to mark it. In Spain, there is no accessible postal voting.

We also received several complains from Italy regarding medical certificate: polling station presidents ask for them all the time, even though persons show their disability card. In one instance, the president even asked for the name of their physician!

These are just a short sample of the problems that persons with disabilities face to vote in the EU.

Easy to understand information missing from Spanish elections

Spanish organisation "Plena Inclusión"  also ran a survey on the legislative elections of 28 April. These were the first elections after the Spanish governmebt passed a law returning the right to vote for persons with disabilities.

From 1135 respondents, main complaints included "not understanding what the vote is for", too many elections at the same time, and not understing the proposals from the parties. Also practical information was not easy to find, such where to vote, understand where the person is registered and not having support during the voting process. You can read the full article in Spanish

You can check the report “The real right of persons with disabilities to vote in EP elections” to learn more.

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