Realizing Electoral Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Ukraine During COVID-19

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IFES, the Central Election Commission and representatives of disabled people's organizations participate in a video call to discuss how to adapt their working group activities in the context of COVID-19.

The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) is actively adapting its programming to ensure inclusive governance during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of these efforts IFES adapted its disability inclusion work in Ukraine to continue to support the Central Election Commission’s (CEC) election access working group, which brings together representatives of disabled people’s organizations (DPOs) to meet with the CEC. Since the pandemic began, the working group has conducted virtual meetings on amendments to the electoral code, mainstreaming accessibility into the CEC’s draft strategic plan and analyzing the accessibility requirements in the newly adopted election code.

With IFES’ support, the working group was established in December 2019 as a consultative forum for CEC, civil society, DPOs and other relevant stakeholders to discuss, review and provide input on laws and regulations and provide guidance on physical accessibility of polling stations, voter education materials and other CEC initiatives to ensure the rights of persons with disabilities. The working group is composed of 13 civil society organizations and DPOs, including the National Association of Persons with Disabilities, as well as representatives of the president’s commissioner on the rights of persons with disabilities.

“[The] establishment and active work of this working group enable us, civic society actors and activists, to work together with CEC as true partners on improving accessibility of the electoral processes throughout the entire electoral cycle, gradually changing existing practices and policies into more inclusive ones.”

– Yulia Sachuk, coordinator, Fight for Right Ukraine

Since its creation in 2019, the working group has convened seven meetings, four of which have taken place virtually due to restrictions on public gatherings because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In recent virtual meetings, working group members developed recommendations to facilitate the CEC’s procurement of assistive devices and to ensure reasonable accommodations, such as sign language interpretation, are made available to voters with disabilities. Virtual working group meetings have also focused on developing criteria to determine polling station accessibility and recommendations regarding accessibility requirements in the newly adopted election code. These recommendations were shared with the CEC’s legal department and subsequently directed to the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine.

Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the CEC election access working group gathered to discuss strategies to ensure equal enfranchisement for persons with disabilities in Ukraine.

In January 2020, the working group drafted recommendations on improving the newly adopted election code that includes provisions to ensure that all polling stations are made accessible to people with disabilities by 2025. The working group’s activities have also included discussions with information technology specialists to update the CEC and State Register of Voters (SRV) websites to ensure accessibility. Following an assessment by IFES’ DPO partner, Fight for Right, the design of both websites was updated to ensure accessibility for people with different types of disabilities.

By adopting innovative approaches to implement activities in the current COVID-19 context, the CEC working group has demonstrated its commitment to disability inclusion. As a result, the working group continues to make progress on adopting provisions in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and ensuring that all Ukrainians have access to their electoral rights, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

IFES' activities in Ukraine are made possible with support from the United States Agency for International Development through the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS), Global Affairs Canada and UK aid. Established in 1995, CEPPS pools the expertise of three premier international organizations dedicated to democratic development: IFES, the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute. CEPPS has a 25-year track record of collaboration and leadership in democracy, human rights and governance support, learning from experience, and adopting new approaches and tools based on the ever-evolving technological landscape.

Published on July 20, 2020.

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