President and CEO Shares Good Practices for Disability-Inclusive Elections

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Credit: Election Commission of India
Publication Date: 
13 Feb 2018

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In the world’s largest democracy, India, the World Bank estimates that there as many 40 to 80 million persons with disabilities. The Election Commission of India (ECI) works to ensure their inclusion in the electoral process, alongside partners like the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).

On January 24, the ECI hosted the “International Conference on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in the Electoral Process.” The conference was attended by experts and practitioners from election management bodies (EMBs) around the world who shared experiences and good inclusion practices, such as universal design. IFES President and CEO Bill Sweeney presented on IFES’ work to integrate women and men with disabilities in electoral processes.

Since 1997, IFES has worked in over 60 countries on disability rights and inclusion, with a dedicated team working on mainstreaming disability rights in our programs, Sweeney noted. Discussing the standards laid out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), Sweeney discussed how election management bodies have the opportunity to be a role model on disability rights for other government ministries. “A few simple policy and procedure changes can make a big difference to the experience of a citizen with a disability during the electoral cycle,” Sweeney told the audience.

Sweeney also provided examples of disability inclusion throughout the electoral cycle during voter registration, in voter education, making polling stations accessible, training poll workers to support voters with disabilities, and mainstreaming women and youth with disabilities in IFES’ work. He also highlighted IFES resources such as ElectionAccess.org, a clearinghouse for resources and news on inclusive elections, the Building Resources in Democracy, Governance and Elections (BRIDGE) training module on Disability Rights and Elections and the manual Equal Access: How to Include Persons with Disabilities in Elections and Political ProcessesSince 1997, IFES has worked in over 60 countries on disability rights and inclusion, with a dedicated team working on mainstreaming disability rights in our programs, Sweeney noted. Discussing the standards laid out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), Sweeney discussed how election management bodies have the opportunity to be a role model on disability rights for other government ministries. “A few simple policy and procedure changes can make a big difference to the experience of a citizen with a disability during the electoral cycle,” Sweeney told the audience.

Panel discussions at the conference included a focus on international and regional frameworks that protect the right of citizens with disabilities to participate; common barriers to participation and strategies for full inclusion; voter education and outreach campaigns; innovation and technology to enhance access of persons with disabilities; how to conduct an election audit to determine accessibility of the process; and the role that international and nongovernmental organizations play in facilitating inclusion. Case studies provided to participants in the conference reader recognized IFES’ current and past inclusion programs in Afghanistan, Armenia, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Kenya, Mali, and Myanmar.

To mark National Voter’s Day on January 25 – an annual celebration held by the ECI where 18 years old register to vote for first the time – Sweeney also planted trees for the International Institute of Democracy and Election Management’s (IIDEM) campus, which is currently under construction. The IIIDEM was established by the ECI to advance its professional competence in election management, promote participation, contribute to developing stronger democratic institutions and support ECI operations.