A simulation exercise of elections at the technological high-school from Chisinau for kids with visual impairments.

In years of struggle for the realization of the rights of people with disabilities, we have understood that participation in elections and political involvement is one of the safest ways to remove these people from anonymity. About 20-30 years ago, people with disabilities "were invisible" in the public space, some even thinking it was a shame to admit having someone with disabilities at home. The mentality was distorted, and discrimination was on the daily agenda.

Today, things are different. This is due to the more active involvement of people with disabilities in electoral processes. But, without understanding how the electoral system works*, you cannot achieve your political rights. That's why we started from the electoral education.

I am honoured that in 2018, a pre-election year, we have teamed up with several civil society colleagues and the Central Electoral Commission team to inform people with different disabilities about their electoral rights. The campaign was possible thanks to the support of UNDP Moldova.

Victor Koroli, Executive Director, INFONET NGO

Over the last half year, we have been able to talk to hundreds of people with hearing, intellectual, and psycho-social disabilities. We have come to each one, inviting them to feel the electoral processes by themselves. We organized election simulation exercises. For many of the participants, it was for the first time in their lives that they put a ballot stamp. Each time, election simulation exercises were appreciated as they allowed voters to pass on to the other side of the barricade, playing the role of an operator, member, secretary or president of the Electoral bureau of the polling station. Simulation is an exercise not only for learning, but also to increase self-confidence and self-esteem.

Another lesson learned during communication is that in a pre-electoral year, people become more polarized, bumpy, hard-headed in the large flow of messages released in the public space, and for that reason they are initially very sceptical of initiatives by non-governmental organizations. That is why it was important at the beginning of the activities to mention that:

  • We are not party members/we do not do political partisanship.
  • We will not impose any opinion.
  • We do not promote an electoral system or another.
  • We will discuss electoral processes and their involvement in them.
  • Participants will form an opinion on themselves about what is happening.
At one of the electoral education meeting with persons with visual impairments.

After these clarifications, the participants opened and felt freer in communication and became open to cooperation. However, an important role in this process was played by the Central Electoral Commission, together with UNDP Moldova team, who were able to make connections between civil society organizations but also from the outside, ensured a great impact and created synergies.

When conducting the information campaign, we involved as volunteers, moderators or mentors people with disabilities. This has increased the trust in the messages we have sent, from peer to peer. Iuliana Tabacari and Nicolae Mironov, people with locomotor disabilities, motivated those present. Namely, such examples persuade other people to want to do more, to participate in electoral processes.

Nicolae Mironov, volunteer of the project, discussing with beneficiaries of the Community Center for people of mental health from Balti.
With the beneficiaries of the Community Center for people of mental health from Balti. Information session and simulation of elections.

For information to be more accessible and attractive, we have worked hard to develop tailor-made information guides: audio and Braille versions, accessible to people with visual impairments, as well as an easy-to-read, easy-to-understand guide for persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities, a first for the Republic of Moldova, edited in Romanian, Russian and English. You can find them all here.

The way of developing these guides was a tough one. Together with the project partners, we have tested in focus groups with people with disabilities who know best how to present the information in a way that is meaningful to them.

As early as 2012, the UNDP supports efforts to increase the accessibility and inclusion of electoral processes, a fact known to us, those from civil society. In 2016, the Central Electoral Commission, with the support of UNDP, managed to equip all polling stations with template envelopes for ballot papers that allowed for secret and accessible voting of visually impaired people. At the same time, translation of the sign language at several polling stations where voters with hearing disabilities were registered. Also, since 2014, all CEC election day announcements, and since 2016, election video spots are accompanied by sign language translation, an experience acknowledged in the Europe and Central Asia region as one of the best practices. And, finally, people with disabilities can become electoral officials. For example, Iuliana and Nicolae want to become electoral officials for the 2019 parliamentary elections.

In a exercise of elections simulation, a student with visual impairments analyzes the ballot by using closed-circuit television.

In conclusion, our studies show that the rate of participation of people with disabilities in elections is higher than the usual rate of voters in the Republic of Moldova. People with disabilities have proactive behaviour on election day. There is an increased interest, due to the information and electoral education activities they participate in. That is why for us every meeting with people with different disabilities is important, because we can discuss issues and to propose improvements based on what people want.

* In 2019, parliamentary elections will take place in the Republic of Moldova, for the first time according to the mixed electoral system.

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