Ukraine must ensure the accessibility of the electoral process for people with disabilities
Ukraine should enforce existing laws and policies to safeguard the rights of people with disabilities. This is the conclusion reached at the All-Ukrainian Conference titled, "Equal Access: Strengthening and Safeguarding Human Rights," held on June 12-13, 2017, in Kyiv.
The event was organized by the National Assembly of Persons with Disabilities (NAPD) in cooperation with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), through the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Global Affairs Canada, and the UK government. Participants included Deputy Minister of Regional Development, Building and Housing and Communal Services of Ukraine Lev Partskhaladze, the Commissioner of the President of Ukraine on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Valeriy Sushkevych, Deputy Chairman of the Central Election Commission Andriy Mahera, Director, 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, IFES Ukraine Country Director Peter Erben, and leaders from the disability community.
It is estimated by the World Health Organization that 15% of the world’s population have a disability. Access to political participation and inclusion in political processes is a critical component of citizenship for all people in Ukraine and beyond. As Daniel Ryan, Deputy Director of the USAID Democracy and Governance Office in Ukraine emphasized, "In many countries, large groups of people are excluded from involvement in political processes, due to discrimination and both intentional and unintentional barriers, whether physical, social, legal or economical. In Ukraine and around the world, USAID considers it a priority to address such barriers to political participation for historically marginalized populations, including persons with disabilities."
Valeriy Sushkevych, Commissioner of the President of Ukraine for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities stated that, "In Ukraine, more than 1 million people with disabilities do not participate in elections. Electing representatives without the voice of persons with disabilities will lead to continued discrimination."
Participants of the conference discussed strategies and problematic issues of ensuring the full and equal participation of people with disabilities in political and electoral processes. Special attention was given to presenting the results of adapting polling stations for persons with disabilities following the 2016 IFES- NAPD audit on accessibility of polling stations in Poltava region.
Participants agreed that ensuring compliance with existing laws and policies designed to safeguard the electoral and political rights of people with disabilities is a key priority. Through the conference, participants developed of recommendations that were addressed to government authorities. Recommendations emphasized the need to ensure physical accessibility of polling stations, offer electoral information in accessible formats, and create a working group comprised of government and civil society representatives that would develop a plan to address a range of legislative, institutional and societal barriers to participation for persons with disabilities.
Karim Morcos, Director, Head of Development Cooperation at the Embassy of Canada in Ukraine further reiterated that "Global Affairs Canada, together with IFES, will continue to offer its partnership to civil society, the Central Election Commission, and other government partners in pursuit of a greater accessibility of the electoral process for persons with disabilities to increase their political participation."
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