Speaking at an event in Brussels, Marek Plura said both candidates and voters who have a disability face a range of impediments.
These, he said, include “inaccessible” voting booths and difficulties getting to and from voting stations.
He was addressing a conference on Tuesday, organised by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) about “participation of persons with disabilities in European elections.”
Plura, who is one of the few MEPs with a disability, said, “For voters who are disabled, just driving up to the local polling station can be a major problem.
“But it is not just about problems getting to and from a voting booth but other difficulties too, such as attending pre-election meetings.”
Other issues facing disabled voters include the widespread absence of sign language interpretation facilities at voting stations.
The event, given the upcoming elections in May, was “particularly timely”, Plura said, adding that many well-qualified disabled people were deterred from running for elected office because of current problems.
“We must leave no stone unturned in our efforts to change this situation and ensure that these [European] elections in May are a model of accessibility for people with disabilities” Marek Plura MEP
This had not, he said, deterred him from running for the Polish parliament even though he estimates that up 90,000 people in Poland are unable to vote because of accessibility issues.
Plura, who is a wheelchair user, told the conference, “We must leave no stone unturned in our efforts to change this situation and ensure that these elections in May are a model of accessibility for people with disabilities.”
Another speaker at the EESC event, Marie Zvolska, who leads a study group on disability rights with the EESC, highlighted other impediments facing disabled voters, such as ballot papers that are not adapted for people with either hearing and sight problems.
She said, “We have to find ways of improving the situation. Even so, those with disabilities who do run as candidates give hope to others. They show that such difficulties can be overcome so they must be encouraged.”
Gunta Anca, a member of the same study group, said, “People with disabilities who want to run for elected office or vote are not treated on equal terms with the able-bodied electorate.”
Each were speaking in a session entitled “Is the right to vote for persons with disability in the EU a reality?”
‘MANY TECHNICAL BARRIERS’
Krzysztof Pater, the EESC’s rapporteur of “real rights of persons with disabilities to vote in the European elections”, presented the findings of a survey which, he said, highlighted the “many technical barriers” disabled voters face.
“We have to find ways of improving the situation. Even so, those with disabilities who do run as candidates give hope to others. They show that such difficulties can be overcome so they must be encouraged” Marie Zvolska, EESC
The event highlighted the work of the European Disability Forum in tackling such issues.
The forum is an umbrella organisation of persons with disabilities that defends the interests of 80 million Europeans with disabilities. It brings together representative organisations of persons with disabilities from across Europe and is run by persons with disabilities and their families.
The forum, which includes 110 MEPs, has repeatedly highlighted issues such as stairs in polling stations, long and complicated instructions on voting forms and “unreadable voting ballots.”
Blind and severely visually-impaired persons are, says the forum, obliged, when casting their vote, to be assisted by persons not of their choice, for example, members of the polling station team.
Another problem, according to the forum, is the deprivation of the legal right to vote for persons with intellectual disabilities.
A forum spokesman said, “These common issues still prevent persons with disabilities from voting.
He said, “Over 80 million persons with disabilities routinely face easy-to-solve problems in voting. In a time where abstention, scepticism and political apathy are higher than ever, providing accessible elections is essential. It will show that European governments still care about their citizens.”
“In a time where abstention, scepticism and political apathy are higher than ever, providing accessible elections is essential. It will show that European governments still care about their citizens” European Disability Forum
“This is why today we are launching our “European elections for all” petition. It tells leaders that we want a Europe of equals. It tells leaders that they need to make Europe more democratic. It tells leaders that over 80 million European voices matter.”
Further comment came from Yannis Vardakastanis, president of the forum, who said, “Voting, and standing for elections, are two of the most important rights we have. This ongoing discrimination has to end.”