For decades, isolating people with disabilities, having deprived them of their social rights, was considered quite normal for the Republic of Moldova, a former Soviet Union country. About 20-30 years ago, people with disabilities "were invisible" in the public space, some even thinking it was a shame to admit publicly having a member of the family with disabilities.
In years of struggle for the claiming of the rights of people with disabilities, we have understood that participation in elections and political involvement is the way to promote their rights. In Moldova, there are more than 180 thousand people with disabilities or 5.1% of the population (according to latest 2017 official data), out of each 170 thousand are voters. In Moldova, elections are conducted every 2 years: general, local and presidential. Sometimes even more often, if early elections are to take place.
We started our journey back in 2012, in partnership with the electoral body – the Central Electoral Commission, by supporting to create conditions for people with disabilities to vote, in accessible spaces and to raise awareness on this matter. In 2016, we managed to equip all polling stations with template envelopes for ballot papers that allowed for secret and accessible voting of visually impaired people. Before, persons with visual impairments could vote only if they were assisted by someone who was telling them what is written on the ballot paper and guiding them to put the stamp.
Also, for polling stations serving persons with hearing impairments, sign language was provided, with UNDP support. Since 2014, all election day announcements, and since 2016, voter education videos are accompanied by sign language translation.
In 2018, a pre-election year in Moldova, UNDP supported a civic campaign to inform hundreds of people with hearing, intellectual, and psycho-social disabilities about their electoral rights. For information to be more accessible and attractive, we have developed 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 absolute first for the Republic of Moldova, produced in Romanian, Russian and English.
However, the challenge of accessible public spaces persists, since the absolute majority of public buildings hosting polling stations are inaccessible: no access ramp, toilet, narrow entrance door and/or corridors etc. In these conditions, people with disabilities have to compromise by requesting the mobile ballot paper at home. While this option is recommended for certain physical conditions, it is definitely not appropriate for all cases. Some of the voters note they feel ashamed to vote at home and even report attempts to influence their choice.
"After the accident I had, for one and a half year I was ashamed to go out in public. When I was going to the hospital, I was always waiting everybody to leave so that to go out of the car and go into the hospital or other institution, no matter which one. I felt myself very ashamed. During my recovery period, two elections were hold.
I voted at home and I didn't feel comfortable at all with this situation. Then, I decided to go myself to the polling station every time when elections were hold, so I felt myself fulfilled and equal with any other person," told us Vasile Savca, from Causeni district.
Vasile was one of our 16 accessibility monitors we teamed up with last year to advocate for accessibility of public spaces. We had in total 36 volunteers who had to fill in an accessibility checklist by visiting 612 polling stations from the total number of 1969.