Increasing Awareness and Equal Access in the Dominican Republic

Inherent to IFES’ mission is encouraging countries around the world to include procedures that allow persons with disabilities to participate fully in electoral and political processes. With this in mind, IFES and the Dominican Republic's electoral commission, the Central Electoral Board (JCE), signed an agreement which strengthens democracy and increases access to the electoral process for persons with disabilities in the island nation.

IFES’ Chief of Party Cristina Francisco answers questions about increasing access for persons with disabilities in the Dominican Republic and shares her own experience to illustrate why it matters.

How is IFES helping the Dominican Republic prepare for the upcoming May presidential election?

Through our current project, IFES is offering technical support to the electoral commission and local organizations who advocate for persons with disabilities around the country. A key part of this program is creating a voter education campaign to promote participation in the electoral process.

This election will be the first time persons with disabilities in our country will be included; this is in large part because of the support of the JCE.

In the past, what has the country done to increase political access for persons with disabilities?

Much was not done in previous years by organizations that support persons with disabilities. Even though there were isolated initiatives and pilot projects, little impact was seen in promoting and facilitating participation in the political process of this population.

What has been the role of civil society and local organizations on these issues?

I can say, without doubt, civil society lacks awareness about the rights of persons with disabilities, resulting in additional structural and attitudinal barriers. These barriers continue to be a real obstacle to the participation of persons with disabilities in our country.

How aware are Latin American countries of the importance of increasing access to electoral and political processes for persons with disabilities?

The situation in many Latin American countries is similar: there is a lack of societal awareness and government responsibility; a lack of statistical data; and limited participation of persons with disabilities in not only political and electoral processes, but in many aspects of life.

When persons with disabilities are integrated into society, including politics, they will become a part of society that makes decisions and promotes public policies. Persons with disabilities represent approximately 10 percent of the population in the world. We are talking about a very significant percentage of people who should be included to increase democratic development in our region.

How are you working on these issues?

As a victim of street violence when I was nine, my life with a disability has given me a first-hand perspective of the challenges and barriers in the Dominican Republic. For example, my sister could go to school, but I could not attend because the school was accessible only by stairs. Things were very different and, at that time, very difficult.

Thanks to great support from my family, I could integrate rehabilitation and wheelchair sports into my life. While participating in competitions in other countries, I met many people who inspired me to make changes to improve laws to eliminate barriers for persons with disabilities in the Dominican Republic. As a result, I have been able to play an active part in several institutions for disabled persons in my country, many of which I founded.

I am very happy to be working on this critical project to help my country.

How can we help educate the public and government about the importance of including persons with disabilities in the political process?

Action is needed. Recently, I had a bad experience during a congressional election. My polling station was on the second floor. It was raining and there was no way for a wheelchair to get to the second floor. After I explained the situation, the presiding officer still refused to find a solution that would allow me to exercise my right to vote as a citizen. He was obviously not aware of my rights.

We can help the public and government by increasing their awareness of laws, regulations and conventions that establish and protect the rights of persons with disabilities. This is possible by encouraging different levels of society and government and persons with disabilities to work collaboratively and identify solutions to these challenges.