by Andrea Rosario
In recognition of their efforts to increase the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the Dominican Republic, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and its local partner, the Disability Alliance for Our Rights (ADIDE), were awarded the 2019 Seal for Good Inclusive Practices for Persons with Disabilities by the National Council on Disability (CONADIS). This seal awards practices that promote the full inclusion and social integration of persons with disabilities.
The award recognized the achievements of the project “Promoting Political Leadership of Youth with Disabilities,” funded by the United States Agency for International Development. Through this project, IFES’ signature political leadership course for youth with disabilities, Engaging a New Generation for Accessible Government and Elections (ENGAGE), was implemented at the Iberoamerican University. The course increased students’ political knowledge and confidence, created professional opportunities for ENGAGE alumni within national and local government institutions and civil society organizations and facilitated advocacy meetings with political and civil society leaders.
“After the ENGAGE course, I am taken into account more as a leader. Now people call me and consult me on things. Representatives of civic movements include my suggestions in evaluations.”
The ENGAGE course spanned eight weeks and was tailored to the Dominican context, with a focus on soft skills such as public speaking and advocacy. It also provided students with civic education on topics like the fundamentals of democratic participation and the Dominican Republic’s political structure. Classroom activities were complemented by visits to public and political institutions. IFES and ADIDE also coordinated with the Central Electoral Board, the governments of the National District and Santo Domingo East, CONADIS and the civil society organization Citizen Participation to offer internships for ENGAGE alumni. These internships provided participants the opportunity to break down stereotypes and demonstrate their skills and talents to potential employers. After the completion of the ENGAGE course and the internships, a new phase of the project allowed participants to once again put their newly acquired skills into practice by conducting disability rights advocacy during meetings with political and civil society leaders. After completing their internships, two ENGAGE alumni were hired by the Central Electoral Board and one was hired by the National District's City Hall.
“The program has been the motor that we needed. We would hear about this civil society space for people with disabilities, but after the program we started having guided visits, we have created friendships and relationships, and we have developed a true passion for integrating ourselves into our country’s political system.”
IFES recently implemented ENGAGE in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, and is currently tailoring the curriculum for use in Ukraine.
Andrea Rosario is an intern for the Americas at IFES.