Equal Access Conference in Ukraine Highlights the Importance of Disability-Inclusive Elections
On June 12-13, 2017, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and the National Assembly of Persons with Disabilities of Ukraine (NAPD) organized a conference in Kyiv on recent initiatives to integrate persons with disabilities into political life. The conference was supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Global Affairs Canada and the government of the United Kingdom.
More than 100 representatives from government institutions, disabled people’s organizations (DPOs), civil society, election management bodies, and media attended “Equal Access: Strengthening and Safeguarding Human Rights.” Speakers included Deputy Minister of Regional Development, Building and Housing and Communal Services Lev Partskhaladze, Commissioner of the President of Ukraine on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Valeriy Sushkevych, Deputy Chairman of the Central Election Commission (CEC) Andriy Mahera, Head of Development Cooperation at the Embassy of Canada in Ukraine Karim Morcos, Deputy Director of the USAID Democracy and Governance Office in Ukraine Daniel Ryan, IFES Senior Global Electoral Adviser and Ukraine Country Director Peter Erben, and leaders from the disability community.
“Why do people need to be active, including those with a disability? Because you are a person, because you are a citizen, because you have rights, you have responsibilities. And this not only may be used but must be used.” - Mykola Fedorenko, disability rights advocate from Poltava
Participants discussed ways to ensure meaningful participation of persons with disabilities in political and electoral processes, including recent initiatives such as Draft Law #5559, which seeks to address barriers to participation for voters with disabilities in elections and national referenda, and Draft Law #6031, which calls for improving access to information for persons with hearing disabilities. Replicating and expanding on recent positive steps, such as adapting stations found by a NAPD and IFES audit in Poltava in March 2016 to be inaccessible is another method for increasing access.
Conference participants also developed a statement with recommendations on electoral inclusion and accessibility directed toward key stakeholders. Recommendations included: implementing and enforcing existing laws and international agreements; guaranteeing barrier-free polling stations; developing information for voters with disabilities in accessible formats; including women with disabilities in the broader advocacy movement; ensuring equal access of citizens with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities; and establishing a working group consisting of the CEC, DPOs, and relevant ministries on access to and inclusion in the political process.
Participants positively evaluated the event in terms of building bridges between civil society and state institutions on ensuring full access and inclusion to electoral process. A few featuring key stakeholders’ thoughts on disability inclusion can be found on ElectionAccess.org.