Voting for a more accessible and inclusive Barcelona

30/04/2021 - 11:58

IMPD elections. The Municipal Institute for People with Disabilities (IMPD) works to make Barcelona an accessible and inclusive city. The people making up the IMPD’s new Governing Board have to be chosen this year (2021). This will be done through elections.

People with functional diversity are entitled to choose this June their representatives on the Governing Board of the Municipal Institute for People with Disabilities to champion their rights.

Vicenta Pechuán had problems walking from a very young age. She always walked with a limp. She discovered, at the age of 58, that she had an ankle bone out of place. “I’ve lived with so much pain I could see the stars. I can’t have any feeling there, there’s no stability. I’ve fallen over 58,000 times. When I step on something, I’m not sure where. I’ve got an 82% disability. I have a prosthetic knee, I use a walking-frame and, if I go outside, I get around in an electric wheelchair”, she explains, immediately after her COVID-19 vaccination at her health clinic.

When she was young, this 88-year-old fighter was involved in battle with local residents to secure a school for adults in Sant Andreu. “Unless we stand up for ourselves, no one will listen to us. And now it’s time we fought for accessibility. The city has improved, but you still come up against a lot of difficulties. The streets are narrow. You find lifts at metro stations that are sometimes out of service or local-commuter railway stations that are not adapted for people with mobility problems”, explains Vicenta, who loves excursions and visiting museums.

One of the ways she can fight is voting, to choose the people representing Barcelona’s groups with functional diversity at the Municipal Institute for People with Disabilities (IMPD). She will know who the ten members of the IMPD’s Governing Board are this coming 21 June. They can be directly chosen by some 140,000 city residents here who are legally recognised as having some form of disability. You can follow the entire process and vote from this website expressly created by the IMPD and Decidim.Barcelona.

These ten members constitute half of the Council (the other half are representatives appointed by political party groups), and are distributed according to the proportional weight in the population of each type of disability: five of the ten representatives speak on behalf of people with a physical disability; two represent people with a mental disorder and, finally, three champion the points of view of people with visual or hearing impairments or learning disabilities (one for each group).

Greater participation

The Governing Board’s last elections, in 2016, saw 2,141 citizens take part. Mobilising the electorate is no mean feat. Two factors make it difficult. First, the City Council as such has no electoral census: it is the Catalan government which verifies disabilities and has the census on the city’s residents with disabilities, a census that it cannot provide for data-protection reasons. The City Council, therefore, uses an incomplete census with data from people with a disability who have request some service from the IMPD o or the City Council through the Social Action Information System and who took part in the previous elections. In addition, many people end up becoming dependent for reasons of age and, should they take part in an activist cause or seek representation, they tend to do so through old people’s groups.

Commenting on these difficulties, the IMPD’s legal secretary, Antoni Galiano, predicts that participation will be higher in these elections. “Technology enables us to reach a larger public, remote channels will enable people to vote”, he states. The goal is to increase participation to 3,000 votes.

People can vote online any time from 1 to 16 June. There are still three days even after that, from 17 to 19 June, to vote face to face at the IMPD’s headquarters.

Vicenta does not yet know who she will vote for. “I’ll have to find out more”, she says.  She can now access information on the candidates and take part in open debates.

More candidates than places on the Council

The candidates for these elections introduced themselves this 22 March. Galiano expressed his satisfaction that each of the groups has more than one candidate.

In the case of physical or organic disabilities, with five of the ten places on the IMPD’s Governing Board, four candidates are standing for them, two together and two separately. We are talking about Barcelona també és nostra – consisting of Carme Riu, Bertrand de Five, Vanessa Fuentes, Àngel Urraca and Neus Mora– and Els nostres drets, la nostra prioritat. Per una Barcelona per a tothom – made up by César León, Ana Suñé, Xavier Duacastilla, Leticia Esporrín and Antonio de Senillosa. The individual candidates are Javier de Oña and Oriol Roqueta.

Standing to represent people with a mental-health disorder, with two places on the Board, are Marta Delgadillo and Raquel Montllor.

Four candidates, all individual, are standing to represent people with learning disabilities, with only one seat on the Board: Montserrat Vilarrassa, Carles Mariné, Miquel Serra and Carme Piquer.

Encarna Muñoz and Rafel Tixé are standing to represent people with hearing impairments, whereas Anaïs Garcia and Francisca Garcaía are standing to represent people with visual impairments.

Main concerns

What concerns these groups the most? There are concerns that are specific to each problem and others that are common. For example, cognitive accessibility, which means making messages understandable, concerns above all people with learning disabilities. Making autism visible and promoting personal assistance are two of the electoral promises, for example, made by Raquel Montlló.

But there are demands that are found in every promise: non-discrimination in education, culture, communication or sport, job inclusion, housing access and accessible mobility. “I’m concerned about loneliness, we need local programmes”, points out the psychologist and Paralympic swimmer, Anaïs Garcia. Carmen Piquer emphasises that women suffer from double discrimination for being women. Montserrat Vilarrasa explains the importance of fighting against bullying and, as with Carles Mariné, calls for the right to work in ordinary companies, which are able to respect everyone’s pace. “Our needs aren’t always taken into account, we want the opportunity to take part in society”, Miquel Serra concludes.

According to Carme Riu, over 75% of the population with disabilities do not work or live off some type of pension or benefit. Recognition as a poor sector of the population is one of the discussion issues, as is compliance with the legislation. “We want all public projects to be accessible. Technical studies say they are, but after they are carried out and they aren’t”, he points out critically, while presenting his candidacy.

For those unable to walk, architecture barriers are one of the worst nightmares. Sixty-year-old Jordi Aleu is worried his mother cannot access the metro. And it’s hard finding work. “Yes, I’ll be voting. I’ll be doing it in person. It’s clearly useful to vote, everyone wants improved accessibility”, he explains. Jordi, Vicenta’s son, has a learning disability. Having gone through various occupational workshops, he now works in the institute itself. “I do errands, I assist people at the entrance”.

Call for voting

Joan Ramon Riera, who is not just the Councillor for Children, Youth, Elderly People and People with Disabilities but also the Chair of the IMPD, is encouraging people to go out and vote. “It is essential, if we are to be able to build public policies for accessibility and services for people with disabilities, to do with through dialogue and discussions with organisations, individuals and groups from the world of disabilities, if we truly aspire to being a Barcelona for everyone”.  To achieve that, Riera highlights the importance of having representation: “We have to go out and vote for, boost the candidacies that each resident with a disability believes will represent them and, ultimately, build democracy”.

Some candidates, such as César León, believe that we need to “strengthen the IMP”, which ought to “do more work” and “enter the City Council’s other areas”. “For me, being involved in the IMPD is a form of fighting against self-stigma”, Marta Delgadillo admits, for her part.

Some of the individuals standing at the elections are currently already members of the Governing Board. Such are the cases with Carme Riu, Neus Mora and Bertrand de Five, representing people with physical disabilities; Montserrat Vilarasa, representing people with learning disabilities and Encarna Muñoz, representing people with hearing impairments, who is calling for “more convenient, safer and easier-to-use services”.

The pandemic is not absent from the electoral programmes. “The health crisis is affecting our group in particular, we’re at the back of the queue when it comes to concerns, maybe not in the City Council’s case but certainly in general”, remarks Francisco Javier de Oña, while presenting his candidacy. Rafel Tixé is calling for more transparent standardised masks, in addition to inclusive education. The lawyer Oriol Roqueta emphasises the importance of finding resources for making policies effective.

“Problems aren’t solved simply with money and mobile apps, but rather by raising awareness”, adds Paquita Garcia, who has an visual impairment, is retired and devotes her time to voluntary work having worked for 36 years in bibliographic services.

Anyone over the age of 16 who is officially resident in Barcelona (or if they are a minor, through a parent or guardian) can vote if they have a legally recognised disability, regardless of the degree of their disability. Or, mental-health disorders require a psychiatric diagnosis or verification that the person suffering from them is receiving assistance from a psycho-social rehabilitation or other mental-health service.

The Governing Board also decides not just on the main strategic lines of action but also on the independent body’s budget, which is 12 million euros in 2021. Advances brought about by the IMPD include: financial aid for adapting homes; shared flats for learning how to live independently; the creation of the Diverscoop cooperative, where people with disabilities manage the city’s abandoned kiosks; the presence of 91% of the transport network having accessible itineraries and more than 50 people with the municipal assistance service at their disposal.