Learning Series on Disability-Inclusive Election Technology
Recent years have brought a wealth of opportunities for using technology to support electoral procedures. The growth of new technologies and the creative use of established technologies offer innovative ways for election management bodies (EMBs) to engage with voters, observers, journalists, election officials, and civil society. As a result of this technological boom, EMBs worldwide are increasingly exploring technology-based solutions for the administration of the electoral process. However, as they use new technology systems, the implications of these platforms or tools for persons with disabilities are frequently overlooked.
According to the World Health Organization, approximately 16 percent of the world’s population – one billion people –have a disability, and about 80 percent of persons with disabilities live in low-to-middle-income countries. Though they compose a large portion of global and national populations, people with disabilities remain severely underrepresented in elections and political processes. Ensuring that technology is accessible and inclusive can be a powerful way to engage persons with disabilities in the political lives of their communities. Universally accessible technology also has the advantage of being a benefit for all citizens participating in elections.
COVID-19 has exacerbated barriers to political participation of persons with disabilities, with incidents of ableist online harassment increasing and voters with disabilities unable to access critical information from EMBs. Although EMBs are mandated to prepare all voters to take part in electoral processes, election technology is often not accessible for persons with disabilities – persons with visual disabilities often encounter online voter education messages without alt-text; sign language and captioning is often not provided on videos, excluding voters with auditory disabilities; and information is rarely available in easy-to-read or wordless formats, which restricts information available to voters with intellectual disabilities. This can result in fewer registrations and voters with disabilities. These issues exclude the world’s one billion persons with disabilities from a critical opportunity to engage in policy setting and decision-making. Inclusion of persons with disabilities is fundamental to democracy.
Election technology can take many forms – from ballot scanners to use of social media for voter education. This learning series, based on international standards outlined in the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, presents five principles for using technology to support election access:
- Inclusion – All persons with disabilities are able to access election technology on an equal basis with others
- Independence – Technology should support the right of persons with disabilities to act independently in elections
- Accessibility – All people must be able to access the same information and enjoy the same services during elections
- Intersectionality – All persons with disabilities also have other identities that impact the way they are perceived by others and the barriers they experience.
- Universality – Election technology solutions must support the largest number of voters possible.
The documents in this learning series provide EMBs and civil society with guidelines and recommendations to ensure the technology they use, procure, and develop is fully accessible for persons with disabilities, including the following topics:
- Accessible social media in elections
- Using video and audio formats for voter education
- Accessible data visualization
- Cybersecurity and disability inclusion
- Artificial intelligence
This learning series is made possible by the generous support of the Swedish International Development (Sida). We would also like to thank the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for their support of previous work on which this project has been built.
Exploring principles for using technology to support election access and inclusion.
Lessons to make social media accessible for all people.