Building inclusive, vibrant democracies depends on the active engagement of all citizens in public life. People with disabilities represent approximately 15% of the population, a large constituency base in every country, yet decision-makers and policy-makers in government have historically been unresponsive to their needs.
Through involvement in political activity, law and policy reform, disabled people and their organizations can influence improvements in the areas of health, rehabilitation, education, employment, and access to goods and services.
Development organizations working on issues of democracy building must ensure people with disabilities have opportunities to fully participate as leaders and beneficiaries in these processes.
Utilize the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Article 29 of the CRPD calls on nations to ensure persons with disabilities can effectively, fully participate in political and public life. Even in the most difficult elections situations, the rights of disabled citizens can be recognized.
One important part of democracy building is ensuring that all citizens participate in the electoral process. The development community can implement the following strategies to promote full participation by voters with disabilities. Likewise, these strategies combined serve as a model to apply towards other marginalized groups excluded during elections such as persons in prisons, hospitals, or other institutions.
Strategies to Increase Voting Accessibility
- Training - Design and deliver workshops for disability rights activists to increase familiarity of national and international frameworks that protect the rights of persons with disabilities.
- Ensure Equal Access - Provide Braille and/or audio guides for persons with visual disabilities. Use principles of universal design for persons with physical disabilities. Provide off-site voting stations that ensure ballot secrecy. The right to vote in secret is recognized in most every election law in the world, yet people with disabilities are often denied this right due to inaccessible voting systems.
- Remove Barriers – Wheelchair riders or persons with mobility limitations can be denied their right to vote due to inaccessible polling stations. Select polling stations with level access from the outside and throughout the building to the polling booth. Commit to having ground floor only voting. Make polling booths reachable for wheelchair riders. Place polling stations in settings where elderly or disabled persons gather, and implement in-home voting for individuals with severe mobility impairments.
- Advocacy – Work with local Disabled Person’s Organizations (DPOs) to leverage the Bill of Electoral Rights for People with Disabilities to fight against discrimination based on outdated views of mental disability. Many election laws discriminate against persons with intellectual and psychiatric disabilities. For example, when a person is appointed a legal guardian or institutionalized, they might lose their right to vote.
- Monitoring by Citizens with Disabilities – Work with local DPOs to train persons with disabilities to serve as election monitors. This creates informed disabled citizens who can reform discriminatory election practices and combat stereotypes that portray people with disabilities as isolated and cut off from civic participation.
- Link DPOs with Election Management Bodies – Ensure that DPOs are consulted by election management bodies so that persons with disabilities are treated equally throughout the entire election process.
We encourage you to explore some of the key external resources on inclusive democracy building provided in Related Links and Documents. The resources are provided in their original format. MIUSA strives to ensure external documents are accessible to the greatest extent possible. As the field of disability-inclusive democracy building is developing rapidly, we also recommend doing web research for new resources.
Be sure to utilize MIUSA’s resource, Making Inclusive Development a Reality: Ten Essential Steps, which has disability inclusion tips relevant across all development sectors, and the Global Disability RightNow! resource center. These can be found in the Related Resources and Related Links.