Promoting Equal Access and Participation of Persons with Disabilities in Elections through Nonpartisan Citizen Observation
A true democracy is one that includes all citizens, including those with disabilities.
Increasing the inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities in elections and in citizen election observation ensures that persons with disabilities are equal partners and have a voice in decisions that affect their lives. Identifying, monitoring, and advocating for removal of barriers to participation affecting persons with disabilities is a critical part of election monitoring and promoting electoral integrity.
Persons with disabilities confront similar barriers affecting other marginalized communities when it comes to participation in political and public life. However, persons with disabilities also face unique and diverse barriers that often obstruct their full and equal participation in elections. These barriers include access issues at polling stations, intimidation or disrespect of the secrecy of the ballot, mandatory voting provisions that fine persons with disabilities for not voting or automatically remove them from voter lists, and a lack of accessible voter and civic education, among others.
Legal Framework and International Standards
Citizen observers can advocate for more accessible elections by holding governments accountable to the rights of persons with disabilities outlined in constitutions and provided by international standards.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), adopted by the General Assembly in 2006, provides the legal basis and international standards for the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities in public life. Articles 12 and 29, providing for equal recognition before the law and for accessible voting facilities, procedures, and materials, are particularly relevant for ensuring equal participation and inclusion in elections. Citizen observers can hold governments accountable to the rights of persons with disabilities outlined in constitutions and granted in international standards, advocate for governments to commit to these provisions, and promote dialogue about specific barriers to electoral participation that affect the disability community. Please visit our resource library below to find the CRPD and other international and regional conventions and commitments that provide for the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities in elections. Photo: UN Photo/Fardin Waezi
Since its founding in 1994, ADRF has coordinated many major initiatives impacting the quality of life of persons with disabilities in Albania. Their elections-related programming has included electoral reform initiatives, training on disability issues for the election commission and political parties, capacity-building exercises for DPOs, and citizen election monitoring. ADRF played an instrumental role in the realization of the 2003 and 2008 amendments to the Electoral Code that have greatly expanded election access in Albania. However, these amendments only partly addressed the improvements needed to bring Albania’s electoral code up to regional and international standards. The Electoral Code now facilitates the participation of persons with disabilities who can reach polling stations, but still does not include adequate provisions for the enfranchisement of persons who cannot leave their home because of a disability. In 2012, ADRF issued a report titled “Electoral Rights for Persons with Disabilities” that outlines further recommendations to the electoral process in Albania and provides detailed guidelines on how to implement needed changes.
Coalition Building and Recruitment
Incorporating persons with disabilities and disabled persons organizations (DPOs) in citizen observation efforts is integral to an overall strategy that promotes an inclusive and participatory electoral process.
The disability community is diverse and takes different forms across regional, national, and local contexts. When designing an observation strategy and activities, citizen observer groups should consult the local disability community regarding its interests, inclusion and representation on its preferred terms. Citizen election observation efforts that aim to promote an inclusive electoral process should look beyond monitoring access issues at polling stations. Persons with disabilities and disabled persons organizations (DPOs) should be included and represented in all aspects of programming and observation activities, including as coalition partners and mainstream citizen observers. Persons with disabilities and DPOs can be mainstreamed into citizen election observation through broad-based civil society coalition-building, which encourages other coalition partners to take a more active approach to supporting people with disabilities and to be more thoughtful about their own efforts at inclusion. DPOs are vital partners because they provide a pre-existing platform for mobilizing persons with disabilities and representing the community’s interests.
Spotlight on DPO: جمعية الأمان لرعاية الكفيفات / Al-Aman Association for the Care of Blind Women (Yemen)
Established in 1999, Al-Aman works to integrate persons with disabilities, particularly blind women, into public and political life in Yemen. Al-Aman actively builds relationships with local, regional and international organizations around common interests in equality, transparency, and accountability. In 2008, Al-Aman partnered with five other civil society organizations to form the citizen election monitoring coalition Yemen Network for Democracy and Elections (YDEN). The coalition’s activities have included ongoing electoral reform initiatives and public awareness campaigns, in addition to monitoring of the 2008 voter registration process and the 2012 presidential elections. From March 2013 - January 2014, YDEN joined RASD, a broad-based coalition of civil society organisations working together to monitor the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) and to promote a political culture of transparency and openness among delegates. With Al-Aman as a member, YDEN has been able to highlight concerns about access for persons with disabilities and offer constructive recommendations for more inclusive elections in Yemen.
Access and Voting Procedure
Accessibility is a critical first step for mainstreaming persons with disabilities into political life.
Citizen observer groups should include questions about election access on mainstream observer checklists in order to ensure that access is in line with international standards on the right of persons with disabilities to political participation highlighted in the CRPD. Observers should also monitor whether provisions are taken at polling stations to ensure that persons with disabilities receive the assistance needed in order to cast a ballot while maintaining its secrecy. Foremost, in order for election observation groups to identify gaps and advocate for more accessible elections, persons with disabilities should be included as trained election observers. Please visit our resource library below for more information about voting procedures and examples of observation forms focusing on access issues.
Spotlight on DPO: Fédération Malienne des Associations de Personnes Handicapées/ Federation of Disabled Persons Organizations in Mali (FEMAPH)
FEMAPH is a network of 15 DPOs working towards creating a more inclusive society in Mali. Political and electoral rights are a cornerstone of FEMAPH’s initiatives. FEMAPH provided consultation to and participated in the observation effort that was organized by the citizen election observation coalition APEM during the 2013 presidential elections. The coalition set up a broad-based observation analysis team, the Pôle d’Observation Électorale Citoyenne or POCE, to analyze the information sent by citizen observers and report on findings. FEMAPH was an integral member of the POCE ensemble, which included technical and data experts, representatives from civil society, and policy experts. APEM mainstreamed questions about persons with disabilities in their observation forms and collected data on the percentage of persons with disabilities who received assistance at polling stations. APEM also provided recommendations specifically addressing election access in their final report. Additionally, in the four months preceding the 2013 election, FEMAPH conducted a civic education project for 17 local chapters in the Bamako and Sikasso regions on voting procedures, relevant provisions of the electoral law, international standards granting persons with disabilities the right to equal and full participation in elections, and the importance of voting.
Please visit our Inclusion and Participation of Persons with Disabilities resource page for more materials.
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 21 (1948)
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 25 (1966)
- Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Articles 12 and 29 (2007)
- Equal Access: How to Include Persons with Disabilities in Elections and Political Processes, IFES & NDI, 2014
- Inclusion of People with Disabilities in Electoral and Political Processes in the Dominican Republic, La Red, 2013
- Recommendations for Accessible Elections in Europe, Inclusion Europe, 2011
- Monitoring Accessibility of Polling Stations (French), Handicap FormEduC, Senegal 2012
- Electoral Rights for Voters with Disabilities (Observation Forms in Annexes), Albanian Disability Rights Foundation, 2012