Voter education initiatives try to reach all citizens to make the election process inclusive of everyone. Messages about elections need to be shared with people with disabilities and they also provide an opportunity to provide positive support to disability rights. The voter education efforts described below provide good examples of how governments and organizations can make sure their messages reach persons with disabilities and spread information on disability rights to all citizens.
Messages intended for the general public–meaning, for all people with and without disabilities–can mainstream or integrate people with disabilities in their content. When materials meant for the general public include images or information about people with disabilities, this can help reduce the stigmatization of people with disabilities among non-disabled people. This helps raise the visibility of people with disabilities in public and political life. Making mainstream messages disability inclusive can also encourage people with disabilities to become involved with voting.
In Myanmar, for example, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) found that women were less likely than men to know how to mark a ballot. To address this gap, IFES partnered with women’s groups to develop targeted voter education, including sample ballots, where women could practice voting using apples, oranges and other fruit as “candidates.” IFES and the women’s groups developed brochures describing the process of how to vote, which they shared in markets along with sample ballots. As part of this initiative, images of women with disabilities were integrated into the voter education materials. It should be noted that including images of women with disabilities in the brochure did not have an additional cost – it just required asking the graphic designer to draw images of women with disabilities.
Persons with disabilities experience additional barriers while taking part in public life, including voting. One barrier to their inclusion is the lack of available information about where and how people with disabilities can vote. Developing an educational campaign is important to ensure that all voters know how to participate. Targeted messages might include information about the assistive devices that are available on Election Day, or the right of persons with disabilities to an assistant of their choice.
In Pakistan, a local Disabled People’s Organization (DPO) created the Disability Inclusive Voter Education (DIVE) mobile app to disseminate information about the elections. In order to reach the greatest number of voters with disabilities, the DPO circulated the link to download DIVE through 8000 text messages to men and women with disabilities. You can read more about DIVE on the RightsNow! Using Mobile Applications for Advocacy tool.
Voter education campaigns do more than share information with voters: they are powerful tools to empower people with disabilities to take part as citizens equal to others. Sensitization campaigns are designed to target the general public and show the integration of persons with disabilities in public life. These messages are intended to reduce stigma and can serve to break down stereotypes.
For example, in the Dominican Republic, IFES and a DPO partner developed a TV spot called “Tu derecho a elegir” (Your right to choose), which featured people with disabilities pledging allegiance to the Dominican flag and engaging in civic duties alongside fellow citizens with patriotic music playing in the background. The video also showed people with different types of disabilities working to show their contributions to society.
To reach all voters with disabilities, information must be available in multiple formats. Messages are accessible when they are distributed using a combination of TV advertisements, radio, poster, and tactile or braille brochures in order to ensure that all voters have the opportunity to understand the messages. For example, using simple language and images also make messages accessible to persons with intellectual disabilities or persons with low literacy skills; including radio ads reaches voters who are blind or have low vision; and sign language interpretation helps reach Deaf communities.
In Morocco, Deaf communities did not have access to vocabulary on political participation. In order to help fill this gap, IFES empowered local experts to produce a video and manual with an electoral lexicon in Moroccan Sign Language (MSL) ahead of the October 2016 elections. Through workshops to engage Deaf populations in Morocco, use of election terminology increased. This targeted effort enabled sign language users in the country to communicate about important issues for their communities.