Strengthening political participation of person with disabilities

Persons with disabilities can be found in all religious, social, political and economic groups. They can be born with a disability, or they can acquire a disability later in life, for example through accident, genetics, age or armed conflict. Persons with disabilities are part of society in many enriching ways: they are parents, students, entrepreneurs, athletes, artists, teachers, politicians and much more.

Persons with disabilities are also among the most excluded communities worldwide. For years, societies around the world have regarded disability as something to be feared, pitied or cured. Negative myths and stigmas about persons with disabilities are common, such as the belief that they are incapable of making positive contributions to society. As a result, persons with disabilities encounter significant barriers in their efforts to access their basic rights, including the right to political participation.

The right to participate in political activities is a fundamental human right for every citizen in a country, but this right is often not available to persons with disabilities. Political participation involves the ability of individuals to take part in public affairs, to assemble and form associations, to register during elections, and to declare candidacy during national and local elections  Active participation of all citizens in the political process is vital because it helps to maintain trust in the political system Promoting the right to equal participation in politics is vital for strengthening democracy, promoting social inclusion, fostering economic development and safeguarding the fundamental human rights of all person. Political parties are critical stakeholders in efforts to support under-represented communities, since they are often regarded as the gatekeepers to political participation and representation within municipal assemblies, local governments and national parliaments. In this role, it is particularly beneficial for parties to pursue opportunities to engage persons with disabilities as voters, as party members, as observers (when parties field their own election observers) and as candidates

 

     Barriers to political participation

  • Lack of Societal Support

 The most widespread obstacles for persons with disabilities in political life is a common belief that they are either uninterested in politics or that they are unable to participate in politics. Both men and women with disabilities are rarely encouraged to participate in politics at any level, whether as voters, party members, candidates, observers or elected officials. When they do express an interest in voting or running for office, they are often actively discouraged by friends, family and/or community members

  • Education Gaps

 Education gaps can lead to little or no understanding of the basics of democratic     decision-making structures, policies, branches of power and mechanisms for creating legislation. As a result, it becomes more difficult to effectively engage in public or political life, and to build up the experience and qualifications needed for leadership roles.

  • Restrictive Legal Framework

 In many countries, the legal framework contains provisions that restrict or        prohibit a citizen with a disability from participating in political life, including      voting and candidacy processes. For example, provisions may contain terms such as “inability”, “illness”, “incapacity” or “competency” that could potentially be used to exclude or disqualify candidates with disabilities

  • Inaccessible Physical Environments

lack of ramps, elevators, hallways, doorways roads and sidewalks ,transportation for persons with disabilities

  • Low Incomes and Unemployment

Lack of finance and ineligibility in employment sectors lead the persons with disabilities into serious financial conflicts

  • Inadequate Staff Training

Political party and parliamentary staff are rarely trained on how to thoughtfully interact with persons with disabilities or support their accommodation needs. At best, persons with disabilities are provided with inadequate and inefficient services; at worst, they are insulted or pushed aside. This contributes to an overall political environment in which persons with disabilities are given low priority or disregarded completely

  • Multiple Layers of Discrimination

Aside from disability-specific barriers, it is important to be aware that there are often additional challenges for persons with disabilities who are also members of other under-represented communities. For example, women with disabilities may be concerned about childcare coverage or care for older parents. Youth with disabilities may be eager to participate in politics, but not have much guidance on how to navigate political institutions and systems. Members of indigenous communities, religious groups or ethnic minorities can encounter harsh discrimination based on their identities

 

TO BREAK THOSE BARRIERS….

Accessibility Policy

accessibility means a system, product, service or environment that is easy for a person with a disability to use. For a political party, being accessible means that persons with disabilities have positive, inclusive experiences at every level of participation – from being a voter to being a campaign staff member or candidate; from local government to national parliament. It may be advantageous to pair an accessibility policy with a non-discrimination policy, emphasizing that all persons with disabilities are welcome, regardless of their social identity (gender, age, ethnicity, race, etc.). Accessibility can also be an excellent foundation for universal design.

Budgets for candidates with disabilities

Lack of finances is one of the main obstacles that prevents men and women with disabilities from running for office. It is critical that political parties not only provide encouragement for qualified candidates with disabilities, but are also willing to provide or arrange for meaningful financial support.

Political Party Membership

Using inclusive recruitment strategies broadens the reach of a political party’s influence and helps to diversify its membership base and candidate lists. In turn, this may attract more voters as they begin to see people like themselves represented within a party and adds new perspectives to internal party conversations

Disability Quotas

Special temporary measures, such as quotas, are intended to more quickly resolve inequalities for persons with disabilities and increase their numbers in political party candidate lists and as members of parliament

Engagement with voters

A town hall meeting, speech or debate is an opportunity to demonstrate support for issues that are of particular interest to persons with disabilities. For example, if discussing public education initiatives, candidates could include a statement about encouraging the full inclusion of children with disabilities, along with other under-represented communities