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Global Knowledge Network On Voter Education - learning from each other

How to Ensure Voter Education is Accessible to Citizens with Disabilities

TV Spot
This TV spot on accessible voting processes in Kosovo incorporated
both sign language and captions to engagevoters who were
deaf or hard-of-hearing.Source: IFES
The World Health Organization estimates that there are one billion women, men, and children with physical, visual, auditory, intellectual, and psychosocial disabilities. These citizens encounter numerous barriers to participation in political and public life, including communication barriers. Communication barriers restrict the information that persons with disabilities receive. In the context of elections, such a lack of information might result in not knowing when elections are taking place,the contents of party manifestos, polling station locations, or how to mark the ballot.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) Article 29 guarantees that people with disabilities have the right to participate in political and public life on an equal basis as others. The treaty has been ratified by over 90% of UN member states, thus making its provisions the international standard. Sustainable Development Goal 16also calls on states to ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels. These international frameworks call on all election stakeholders, including election management bodies (EMBs), disabled people’s organizations (DPOs), civil society, and political parties to ensure that electoral information is available in formats accessible to citizens with disabilities.

The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) has developed voter education materials in collaboration with EMBs and DPOs in dozens of countries around the world. Based on this experience, IFES has compiled good practices for implementing disability-inclusive voter education campaigns. Key lessons learned are the importance of developing materials in multiple types of accessible formats and ensuring that the dissemination methods reach multiply marginalized groups, such as women with disabilities and youth with disabilities.

Why is Dissemination in Multiple Formats Important?

Voter education should be disseminated in multiple types of formats in order to be fully accessible to all citizens. Common types of formats include print, radio, television, digital and interactive events.Multiple formats refers to a combination of these formats.For example, a voter education campaign might include any of the following:

  • Print: posters, brochures, flyers, newspaper ads or comics
  • Radio: call in shows, dramas, ads
  • Television: public service announcements (PSAs), talk shows, animations
  • Digital content: websites, social media, YouTube
  • Interactive events:street theatre, voting simulations, concerts

Using multiple formats during a voter education campaign is helpful for reaching all voters, not just voters with disabilities. Using several types of methods to disseminate information increases the likelihood that citizens hear important messages about the electoral process.

What Makes Voter Education Accessible?

This pictorial 2016 poster from Haiti shows
people with and without disabilities discussing
issues before an election. Source: IFES
For persons who have sensory disabilities, information is not always accessible. Combining multiple formats ensures that all voters receive the information. For example, for persons with visual disabilities, billboards are inaccessible because the information is conveyed only visually. For Deaf voters, radio is inaccessible because they cannot hear what is being said. However, using both billboards and radio ads during a voter education campaign helps to reach both voters who are blind and voters who are deaf.

Easy-to-read and wordless content help reach all citizens. Easy-to-read format uses simplified text and pictures to help make information easier to understand for people who have low literacy skills or who have an intellectual or learning disability. Wordless content such as pictures can be used in conjunction with facilitated voter education workshops or on its own. Persons with intellectual disabilities, persons with low literacy and persons who do not speak the main language of a country all benefit from wordless content.

The infographic below contains additional suggestions for making voter education in any format accessible to everyone.


Reaching Women with Disabilities and Youth with Disabilities

This 2012 comic from Myanmar
features a woman with adisability.
Source: IFES
People with disabilities are among the most marginalized communities in the world. This marginalization is compounded when a person identifies with multiple marginalized groups, such as being a woman or a young person. In addition to producing materials in multiple types of accessible formats, voter education should also be disseminated in a manner likely to reach women with disabilities and youth with disabilities.

Sixty percent of all persons with disabilities are women, and women with disabilities are less likely to receive comparable education or training, have access to health care or have employment opportunities. In Myanmar, IFES identified that women were less likely than men to know how to mark a ballot. In order to address this gap, IFES partnered with women’s groups to develop a targeted voter education initiative, 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.

This Kenyan poster includes youth
with disabilities and was disseminated
in schools. Source: IFES
Youth with disabilities are less likely to have access to information regarding democratic institutions than their peers. Including youth as active participants in their societies decreases the likelihood that they become involved in violent conflict and civic unrest. In Kenya, IFES worked with the EMB to develop a voter education program that was delivered in schools. The materials developed for the campaign included images of youth with disabilities.

Including images of women with disabilities in the Myanmar brochure and images of youth with disabilities in the Kenyan poster, did not add an additional cost – it just required asking the graphic designer to draw images of women and youth with disabilities.By ensuring that voter education materials are developed in multiple types of formats as well as proactively including women with disabilities and youth with disabilities in broader outreach efforts, EMBs can ensure that their messages are inclusive of all citizens.

Virginia Atkinson
Senior Access and Inclusion Specialist,
International Foundation for Electoral Systems