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Equality »

Valladolid appoints Spain’s first Down Syndrome councillor

Ángela Bachiller joins city council in first for disabled people in Spain

Only the UK is also known to have voted in a politician with Down Syndrome

Ángela Bachiller in the Valladolid City Council chamber on her first day as a local councillor. EFE

Ángela Bachiller recently became Spain's first city councillor with Down Syndrome. Aged 30, Bachiller had already been working for two and a half years at Valladolid City Hall as an administrative assistant. Her opportunity came when a fellow Popular Party (PP) member implicated in a corruption case stood down.

Accompanied by a crowd of friends, family, representatives of disabled associations and the media, Bachiller took her oath of office last month. "Thank you for everything, for having had faith in me," was all a visibly nervous Bachiller could say after she emerged from her first council session, lasting five hours. Mayor Francisco Javier León de la Riva, standing by her side, played down her nerves, saying: "90 percent of my team would have felt the same."

Bachiller stood for office in the municipal elections in 2011 - 18th in a closed list from which 17 councillors were chosen. Mayor León de la Riva, who has been in office since 1995, has known Ángela since she was a child and says he made the decision to include candidates from the city's social welfare department in his team, although Bachiller had to wait until Jesús García Galván stood down after being implicated in a corruption case.

As well as attending council meetings, Bachiller will be the PP's representative on Valladolid City Hall's Disabled Persons Council. She aims to campaign to defend the rights of disabled people, saying she believes that people with disabilities need to play a more active role in politics. Although people with intellectual disabilities are entitled to vote, Spanish courts can declare a person with a disability "incapacitated," thereby automatically depriving them of their right to take part in elections.

"I've always voted since I was 18 years old, but other people [in my situation] have never been able to. We want the laws relating to the right to vote changed," Bachiller said.

Beyond this decision, the PP has no active policy of integration"

Recognizing that she faces challenges in the coming years, Bachiller hopes that she isn't the only person with Down Syndrome to step into politics. She praised Mayor León de la Riva for his stance, saying: "not everybody dares to include us on their electoral list."

Bachiller is also the first person with Down Syndrome to earn a vocational training qualification in her home region of Castilla y León. "The important thing is that her family has not overprotected her," says Rosa Hernández, Bachiller's boss at the Social Welfare Department.

Hernández describes Bachiller as "tenacious" and "disciplined," while her father, speaking to the SER radio network, praised her "responsibility," saying "she would get up at six in the morning to study when she was at school."

The call of duty first came while she was on holiday with her family in Florence in 2010: León de la Riva contacted her to ask if she would like to be included in the PP's electoral list in the 2011 municipal elections. Bachiller says that she didn't hesitate, but neither did she really imagine that she would ever be appointed. Nevertheless, she threw herself into the campaign. "There were candidates from all walks of life," says her mother, among them gay rights campaigner José Antonio Gil; Enrique Jiménez, a member of the Gypsy community, and Bulgarian immigrant Mariya Yancheva. Of these, only Gil won in the first round. The mayor, who is proud to include a member of the homosexual community on the council, has nevertheless been accused of refusing to officiate at same-sex weddings.

The opposition Socialist Party (PSOE) supports Bachiller's appointment. "We see this as something perfectly normal," says Óscar Puente, the head of the Socialist Group in Valladolid City Council. "Let's hope that it encourages other people in her situation to play a bigger role in society. But beyond this decision, the PP has no active policy of integration."

Bachiller's appointment has made headlines around the world, and she has been given support in her home city since taking up her position. "People stop me in the street to congratulate me," she says.

Following a hectic first week on the job, Bachiller is now taking a holiday with her family in Mallorca.

Valladolid City Council's decision puts Spain among just two countries known to have elected officials with Down Syndrome: last year Stephen Green became the first person in the United Kingdom to become a parish councillor. The 47-year-old took up his post in the village of Nuttall, in Nottinghamshire.