Dominican Republic: ‘Right to Choose Project’ for Person with Disabilities
Dominican Republic has a population of 10 million of which 1.2 million persons are estimated to be with a disability which means 11.9 percent of the population. Dominican Republic ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in August, 2009. This ratification strengthened the regulatory framework and efforts for inclusion inter alia for the equal voting rights and access.
Article 121 of the Electoral law provides for assistance to the electors with disabilities to the extent that an individual trusted by such voter may accompany him to the polling booth and help him in preparing the ballot with the condition that such a person is not permitted to be too close to see or hear whatever is done or said while the ballot is being prepared. Article 23 of the National Law on People with Disabilities, 2013 provides that people with disabilities enjoy and experience legal capacity in equal conditions as the rest of the individuals in all aspects of life.
Plan of the Decade of the Americas for the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities in the Dominican Republic (2006-2016).
This plan establishes the responsibility of States to ensure recognition and exercise of the civil and political rights of people with disabilities in all matters of interest to the community.
Barriers to Electoral and Political Participation
In spite of implementation of initiatives by the Dominican Republic, barriers still persisted against people with disabilities in exercise of their civil and political rights. In addition, inclusion may also be hindered due to discrimination and stigma towards people with disabilities. Different types of barriers faced by people with disabilities included mobility, cognitive, sensory, and psycho-social, communications besides information barriers.
‘Right to Choose Project’ was started in April 2012. The project aims at inclusion of PwD’s in the Electoral and Political processes of the country and seeks to motivate key public officials for creation and strengthening the conditions for inclusion in political participation. The main objective was to increase awareness through broad based engagement and consequent improvement in participation of PwD’s in political and electoral process.
The project was established by La Red Ibero-americana de Entidades de Personas con Disacapacidad Fiscia (La Red), a Latin American network of organizations of persons with physical disabilities. The project emerged from the context of 2012 presidential elections through coordination of organizations such as the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), La Red, the Dominican Republic Central Electoral Board (JCE) and a host of other sister organizations that played an important role in the project. The National Council on Disability (CONADIS) provided support and collaboration with the implementation of sensitization activities.
The project approached the challenge through establishment of National Observatory for the project with a vision to assess and oversee the inclusion. It aimed at following objectives:
- Inclusion of people with disabilities in the electoral and political processes.
- To act as a new platform to oversee and monitor best practices and lessons learned from the electoral process.
The Observatory included a team of 20 community leaders who were themselves PwD’s from ten provinces in the country. These community leaders received training on the rights of p and the significance of political participation. After the training, these leaders carried out sensitization talks, orientation and awareness visits in their communities, addressing people with disabilities and their families.
The three main outcomes of the project are:
- Political parties have been sensitized on the importance of including in their agendas, the issue of political participation of people with disabilities in electoral process.
- Increased awareness amongst people with disabilities and improved t knowledge on their voting rights.
Documentation of Best practices and lessons learned on inclusion in the electoral process.
La Red is comprised of entities for the rights of PwD’s, majority of the staff is PwD’s only. This provided an opportunity to increase the number of people to participate in the activities and a larger empathetic environment and dedication. The project engaged more staff from amongst PwD’s with physical, sensory and intellectual disabilities to be lecture facilitators, electoral observers and technical staff.
National Scope Project’s Implementation
The institutional platform established by La Red in the project along with hubs established by collaborating entities of FENADID, CIMUDIS and ASODIFIMO at the national level ensured due regional representation in the project. The participants, who were leaders in their hubs from different regions, attended a three-day interactive session on issues and challenges relevant to political participation by people with disabilities, communication and self-esteem. The participants in turn, on return to their communities shared their knowledge and experience gained through awareness lectures and home visits. Further on elections day, they participated in the electoral observation and identified the accessibility of various polling stations.
Create opportunities for participation
Creating opportunities to promote participation and dissemination of information to PwD’s and their families has a multiplier effect and as such an important step in changing perceptions and behaviors towards political participation. Reflection and participation opportunities have been generated during the project through awareness lectures, meetings with organizations, and forums with political candidates, visits to political parties and dissemination materials. Spaces already established by the JCE have also been utilized in order to give visibility to people with disabilities in campaigns such as Verifícate. During the awareness campaign, people with disabilities explained as to how the lack of information had affected their lives. Following comments illustrate the message:
“I am very pleased with the workshop because I used to feel intimidated in other electoral processes, and now I know that I have the same rights as others.”
“I want to assert my vote.”
“A blind participant in the lecture expressed that he did not think of voting, because in the past he was not allowed to enter the polls with his companion. Now that he knows the articles, which enable his right to enter with a person of his choice, and use a template to help him vote independently. He will vote in the future, and will do it with the template.”
Unify inter-agency efforts to achieve a commitment to expansion in the full inclusion of people with disabilities
Agreements with government organizations responsible to regulate and influence the processes of participation were attained with a view to bolster sustainability and achieving visibility for PwD’s in State policies and
initiatives. As per framework of the project, an institutional agreement was made amongst JCE, IFES and all the concerned organizations for PwD’s, with CONADIS as a witness in its role as a government entity. This integration helped in future actions for holistic achievement of the rights of PwD’s. As a consequence of this integrated effort, JCE included information for PwD’s in Election Instructions manual. The JCE also included sign language in informative programs on TV and provided access to information for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Information Campaigns in Accessible Formats
Following media coverage and impact thereof was achieved:
- A TV slot on the voting rights of PwD’s, and
- Participation of several PwD’s in radio and TV programs.
- People with disabilities became visible to the public.
- People with disabilities felt encouraged to participate in the electoral process and exercise their right to vote.
- The general public was informed that PwD’s have equal right to participation and integration in social and political life.
General Population’s Awareness and the Awakening of the Sector’s Political Participation
For the 2012 elections, IFES and La Red worked together with JCE in order to raise awareness of poll workers, such as executing a Verificate program activity.
“A blind person from Los Mameyes told me that he was prevented from voting in the past elections, and he told the polling station worker that he had the right to vote. He stated ‘Law 275 allows me to vote with a person of my choice, and sent his son to find the brochure [from La Red], presented it, and was able to vote.”
Systematization and Base Line Establishment
Systematic database and baseline creation is vital to documentation for status of political participation of PwD’s. During the project period, regional and national inputs have been developed to broaden the field and scope of studies and data on status of people with disabilities, which was hither to not available. Such studies bring out impact of the project, besides serving as a reference point for course of action on future interventions
- Reliable census for PwD’s would prompt government and its institutions to focus on needed resources to ensure the electoral and political rights of PwD’s
- Political inclusion activities should be completed sufficiently before election year.
Understanding context limitations
- The political system in the country has to develop a broad based and a holistic approach for inclusion and aim at guaranteeing the full enjoyment of the rights to PwD’s.
- A large proportion of PwD’s are without proper identity documents, which poses problems in legitimate recognition and registration in electoral roll.
- Inadequacy of information and education means that many families discriminate against PwD’s
- Erroneous perceptions regarding involvement of public agencies in this type of projects
- Adaptation or creating instruments to facilitate the vote of people with disabilities do not always lead to independent voting
Addressing the issues relating to voting rights of people with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities
Of the people with disabilities surveyed during the project, 80% expressed motivation to vote as result of their participation in the political rights workshops. However, they also recognized that there are still barriers within the electoral process
Voter Education through Posters and assistive devices
A set of 2012 voter education posters in the Dominican Republic to increase their awareness and encourages PwD’s to vote. The posters carry a larger educative value since they are in local language and explain the polling process step wise.
Ballot Guide: An Assistive Device for Polling by PwD’s
A ballot guide of Dominican Republic Central Electoral Board (JCE) is an assistive device which enables voters with visual disabilities to determine where boxes for each candidate are. It is hinged so that users are able to easily slide the ballot in and out.
The “Right to Choose” project utilized multiple formats to reach voters with disabilities. An inclusive television spot was produced which showed persons with disabilities participating in the community and voting. It also incorporated an inset box with sign language interpretation in order to reach voters who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. The video empowered persons with different types of disabilities to take part in elections as active citizens and demonstrated the voting process.
Barriers to electoral inclusion
During the monitoring and assessment of the electoral process, the following observations were made by the project program and technical teams and electoral observers. Following barriers to electoral inclusion are yet to be overcome as per the evaluation studies:
- Lack of informational and orientation material for people with visual and auditory disabilities, barrier to access polling stations and centers (ex: polling stations located on second and third floors, stairs, and/or lack of ramps);
- Low motivation of people with disabilities to be involved in the electoral process (working in polling stations and centers), in an official manner (with the JCE), or to represent political parties;
- Out of the six government plans from the presidential candidates, only two took into consideration issues facing people with disabilities;
- By other people telling them who to vote for, people with intellectual disabilities were being used as a means to obtain an additional vote, rather than exercising their right to vote and being respected for their participation;
- The JCE incorporated sign language in their citizen’s information and orientation television programs;
- While assisted voting is included in the electoral law, there is still unawareness of this right for people with disabilities, their families and polling station workers;
- Lack of knowledge of auxiliary templates for people who are blind or with low vision, as well as family members and polling station workers; and
- Low training and information on the use and existence of the auxiliary templates for people who are blind or with low vision.
Edited by ECI