Lovemore Rambiyawo Correspondent
Addressing disability issues worldwide has proved to be an intractable affair, and resultantly, disability developments over the last two decades have seen the rise of a new phenomenon, the production of guidelines on disability inclusion.
The guidelines are meant to complement disability inclusion efforts as it is universally acknowledged that people with disabilities (PWDs) suffer from a documented lack of access to fundamental freedoms and rights across the entire social, economic, political and cultural spectrum that other people in society take for granted.
Spanning the entire rights spectrum, these guidelines by global human rights players, revolutionising disability interventions are being conducted globally, by infusing a disability lens into all activities and programmes at international, regional, national, civil society, disabled persons organisations (DPOs) and at individual level.
Grounded on wholesome disability research and with the participation of DPOs, who are the heart and the driving force of disability development , guidelines have been produced on a wide array of service provision areas for people with disabilities.
There is for instance, the guideline on: Women and young persons with disabilities — Guidelines for Providing Rights-Based and Gender Responsive Services to Address Gender-Based Violence and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights produced by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
Another notable guideline is on Family Planning for Women and Girls with Disabilities by UKaid (formerly Department of International Development (DFID).
Another useful guideline is: “Inclusion of People with disabilities in National Employment Policies by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
Another guideline, also from UKaid, is “Guidance on Strengthening Disability inclusion in Humanitarian Response Plans.”
On political participation , we have: “Equal Access: How to Include Persons with Disabilities in Elections and Political Processes” by the International Foundation for Electoral Support (IFES) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI). Still on elections, IFES put the icing on the cake with its guideline : “Election Access Observation Toolkit: of 2018”.
While all these guidelines differ in scope, direction, volume and intensity, they all acknowledge PWDs as the heart and the driving force of the disability development process and are all premised on full and effective participation of PWDs in the targeted areas of endeavour.
Further analysis, however, would appear to indicate that it is the guidelines on “Equal Access: How to include persons with disabilities in elections and political processes”, which best meets PWDs at their point of direct need by coming up boldly with a new electoral cycle that comprehensively and holistically addresses the peculiar needs of PWDs across the entire electoral cycle — post election , pre election and voting (election) phases.
An analysis of the conventional electoral phases and the disability specific electoral cycle will show that the activities are totally different, with the disability activities reflecting the need for inclusion and participation in the conventional electoral cycle activities.
The conventional post-electoral phase includes the following activities: audits and evaluations; voter list update; institutional strengthening and professional development; legal reform and archiving and research.
The pre-voting phase looks at the legal framework activities such as the Constitution; legislation; electoral systems and boundaries; electoral bodies and codes of conduct.
It also looks at the planning and implementation activities including budgeting, funding and finance; recruitment and procurement and logistics and security.
It also looks at training and education activities such as operational training for election officials; civic education; voter education and voter information.
Voter registration activities such as issues of domestic observers; voter registration; observer accreditation and parties and financing are also covered under this phase, electoral campaign activities such as media access; codes of conduct; campaign coordination; breaches and penalties and party financing are also on the menu.
The voting phase looks at the voting operations on the day to include: special and external voting; voting; vote compilation.
It also looks at the verification of results: tabulation of results, complaints and appeals and official results.
For PWDs the electoral cycle is a completely different ball game altogether.
In the post-electoral phase, issues of concern for PWDs are to make Electoral Management Body (EMB) website accessible; involve DPOs in lessons learned; develop relationship between EMB and DPOs; revise election law to comply with United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
In the pre-electoral period, the guidelines note that the following disability considerations should be addressed in consultation with DPOS, determine if disability should be on ID; ensure persons with disabilities have access to necessary ID documents for voting; select accessible voter registration and polling station locations; conduct civic/voter education in accessible formats.
Development of policies on alternative voting methods such as voting in advance/mobile ballot boxes; develop policy on priority voting; budget for reasonable accommodations such as ballot boxes at the height of wheelchair users, voter material in Braille or tactile ballots to enable voters with visual impairments to vote secretly: include persons with disabilities in voter education efforts; include disability in poll worker manual and train poll workers on administering the vote to persons with disabilities; procure magnifying glasses, voting booths accessible to wheelchair users, tactile stickers for ballot boxes, large grip pens; develop tactile ballot guide for voters with visual impairments and, accredit observers with disabilities.
Disability inclusion issues to look out for in the elections period include questions on election access in observation checklists, training media on disseminating information in accessible formats especially for the visually and hearing impaired voters; involve DPOs in developing codes of conduct; recruit candidates with disabilities and conduct debates in accessible formats; announce results in accessible formats; ensure complaints adjudication is accessible to PWDs; and sensitise security forces on providing security for PWDs.
The guidelines have immense potential for ensuring full and effective participation of PWDs across the entire electoral cycle and systems of the electoral process.
They provide measures to facilitate the participation of people with disabilities in elections as voters as well as candidates for elective office and also as polling officials, election observers, party agents, media monitors and other election-related duties.
To further promote disability inclusive election observation, IFES, in partnership with DPOs, on October 26, 2018, launched an Election Access Observation Toolkit which has the following attributes: Step-by-step instructions for DPOs and national or international observer groups to collect data via standalone disability-focused observations; detailed checklists for long and short-term observations and guidance on how to contextualise to national laws and policies; an illustrative list of disability-inclusive questions that could be added to the observation checklists of mainstream observers and an extensive appendix of resources, such as observer reports from election access observations.
In addition to ensuring effective participation and inclusion of PWDs in life’s vital activities, guidelines for inclusion of PWDs serve to combat stigma and discrimination, myths and misconceptions, stereotypes and caricatures and harmful practices against PWDs as provided for in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Lovemore Rambiyawo, who is physically-impaired, is Acting Executive Director of National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH) is an umbrella body to 70 disability organisations in Zimbabwe. The writer can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.