On the 8th of November EUD participated at the thematic meeting organised by the European Disability Forum, European Parliament’s Disability Intergroup and the member of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). The event was also co-organised with MEP Helga Stevens, a member of the ECR group of the European Parliament. Thematic meeting focused on the political participation of persons with disabilities. The event gathered participants with diverse expertise, including members of political parties, parliamentarians, politicians with disabilities, representatives of political party support organizations, disabled people’s organizations, and representatives of other international organizations. The thematic meeting served as a platform to raise awareness about the under-representation of persons with disabilities in political life, including in different political party structures. The discussions identified the potential steps and initiatives which could facilitate such participation and create more inclusive political parties in the EU and across the broader OSCE region.
The first panel identified challenges and obstacles that prevent stronger participation of persons with disabilities in political parties. The representation of persons with disabilities remains noticeably low in all political party structures across the OSCE region. The panel focused on the need to ensure that political parties reflect the diversity of the community they represent, and discussed the role of political parties in advancing the political participation of persons with disabilities.
MEPs Marek Plura, Kostadinka Kuneva and Marian Harkin, highlighted that while reflecting the UN CRPD requirements in the area of political participation for persons with disabilities, many issues emerge. Firstly, there are many legal and administrative barriers to political participation, which must be removed. Legislation that deprives persons with disabilities from their right to political participation must be amended. Secondly, voting procedures, facilities and election materials are not always accessible. Standards ensuring such accessibility must be set and adhered to in all member states. Moreover, it is crucial to expand opportunities for participation in political and public life and to increase awareness of the right to political participation of persons with disabilities. DPOs must be involved in raising awareness of the importance of political participation of persons with disabilities. MEP Helga Stevens highlighted that political parties reflect society as a whole, therefore they themselves must be diverse and include persons with disabilities.
The second session identified positive practices that can contribute to more inclusive and representative political parties. Positive practice measures were identified by Hanna Gerdes, Swedish human rights lawyer, politician and board member of the Swedish International Liberal Center, Hilary Third, Equality, Human Rights and Third Sector of the Scottish Government and Amu Urhonen, chairperson of the Disability branch of the Greens of Finland. Throughout the session it was explained that committees within political party structures, support for candidates, including funds for accessibility related expenses, financial incentives or sanctions all can contribute to an increased participation of persons with disabilities. The session explored different practices, drew on the lessons learned and identify initiatives which could be used in different national contexts. Hilary Third emphasised that political will to deliver full inclusion of persons with disabilities in the political life is extremely important. As an example, Ms Hilary Third presented British Sign language implementation plan and a toolkit developed for the political parties to assess themselves how inclusive they are and in which areas they should improve.
Thematic meeting was an excellent learning opportunity for EUD. EUD highlights that right to political participation is fundamental for deaf people and must be protected and respected.