Accessibility of information and public institutions is still a major challenge for people with disabilities from Moldova
Ability to participate in socio-political life
“I always vote with a strong belief in a better future. And I feel fulfilled because I know that I have fulfilled my responsibility as a citizen, even if later the party or the voted candidate disappoints me,” is convinced Igor Guma from Gauzeni village, Soldanesti district.
At the age of 26, Igor had a motorcycle accident, broke his spine and has been using a wheelchair since then. Eight years have passed in which he has suffered both physically and psychologically, but today he wants to contribute to the development of his community and country as much as he can. And one of his contributions is the vote. At every election, he goes to the polling station from his village and the biggest challenge is the road to get there.
From home and to the paved street that leads to the village centre, where the polling station is located, Igor has to cross a country road, in a wheelchair, which solicits a huge physical effort. It is a prove of his ambition and desire to fulfill his human rights. He says that luckily, the polling station is partially accessible. It has no stairs at the entrance, it crosses the thresholds quite easily and there is enough space to pass from the operator to the ballot box. Moreover, he proudly remembers that he happened to be in the polling station together with young people who were voting for the first time and he guided and helped them.
“Also, the elections are an opportunity to get out and talk to people and young people of my age”, Igor told the volunteers who came to ask if he wanted to take part in a poll on the participation in the 2021 parliamentary elections of the people with disabilities.
The vote of people with disabilities from Leova and Soldanesti in the parliamentary elections
804 people with disabilities from 43 villages in Soldanesti and Leova districts participated in the survey conducted by the “MOTIVATION” Association of Moldova.
During May-November 2021, with the support of USAID and UNDP, “MOTIVATION” conducted several information and awareness actions for people with various disabilities and local public administration in two districts: Soldanesti and Leova. A good opportunity was also the organization of the early parliamentary elections, and the survey aimed to assess the interest and possibility of voting inside polling stations.
Asked what challenges they faced in achieving the right to vote in the early parliamentary elections of 11 July 2021, most of those surveyed mentioned the inaccessible road and lack of information.
59% of people said they exercised their right to vote in polling stations, and 8% used the mobile ballot box. However, out of the total number of those who mentioned that they requested a mobile ballot box, 45% specified that they do so at every election, and 9% used this possibility for the first time this year.
Most of the respondents said that they requested a mobile ballot box because they have reduced mobility, which does not mean total immobility, but imply the use of assistive devices such as crutches, walking sticks, wheelchairs.
For people with disabilities, the voting in polling stations depends on the accessibility of information and infrastructure. This is one of the main findings of the survey. First of all, it is about access to information that is easy to understand and, secondly, on election day, it is necessary to ensure that the road from home to the polling station is accessible. Polling stations should be arranged in such a way that the entire voting procedure becomes easy for every citizen. The lack of these elements is also the reason why many people ask for a mobile ballot box at home.
“I’ve always participated in elections and voted, but now I can’t. I practically don’t see, it is very difficult to walk. My husband has the same health problems.”
For several years now, Liubovi and Nicolae Rusu have been voting only with the help of the mobile ballot box. The woman greeted the “MOTIVATION” volunteers with tears. The worries and burden of the years overwhelm her and she remembers with nostalgia the days when the whole day ran from one corner of the village to the other, and elections day felt like a celebration for all people.
“Whoever says that I’m feeling good, let move his house next to mine, and see my well-being, and see how I live,” are the lyrics that the woman used to shout dancing in the village some decades ago. The memories are mostly the ones that makes her happy, especially those related to her children, or only one of them is still in the village today. Two others live in Ukraine and Russia.
People with disabilities vote for an inclusive country
“In rural areas, compared to urban areas, the situation is much worse. Accessibility and voting rights are still being broken. People with disabilities choose the opportunity to vote at home. Why? Simple, because they can’t get out of the house! Damaged roads, public institutions with access ramp that is either improvised from two rails, or it is from a very large angle. And not only the ramp creates a free and unrestricted access,” says Ludmila Iachim, director of the “MOTIVATION” Association.
In Leova and Soldanesti, the association’s team was greeted by the local public administration with openness and cooperation from the beginning. At the end of the activities carried out by “MOTIVATION”, the district departments of social assistance came with the initiative to sign a memorandum of cooperation. In this way, the regions officials will continue the partnership with “MOTIVATION”, to guide them in ensuring equal access to public institutions.
“It was beyond our expectations that the local authorities in both regions were open to cooperate. They were interested in learning more about infrastructure and information accessibility. I am sure that the so-called ‘user safari’ exercise, when they put themselves in the position of people with disabilities, marked them a lot. Their request to sign a memorandum of cooperation is what we did not initially plan”, says Ludmila Iachim.
Before the parliamentary elections, “MOTIVATION” identified 34 people with disabilities who wanted to be involved in the campaign, to whom they explained what equal access to polling stations means and the importance of exercising the right to vote. After that, the trainees shared with other 230 people with disabilities in Soldanesti and Leova about the importance of social inclusion of people with disabilities through their participation in the decision-making process.
During September-October, the association’s volunteers conducted the survey, in parallel with a “door-to-door” campaign in 43 localities in both regions, where they talked to more than 3,800 people with disabilities and more than 2,000 members of their families. 30 assistants and social workers from Soldanesti and Leova were involved in the information and awareness campaign on the civil rights of people with disabilities.
“People with disabilities need to be involved and trained continuously, through learning and civic activities. So that when they come in front of the local public authorities, they can address the issues with solid and documented arguments. Nothing for us, without us,” concludes the director of the “MOTIVATION” Association.
The information and awareness campaign “People with disabilities vote for an inclusive country” was organized within the project “Enhancing democracy in Moldova through inclusive and transparent elections”, implemented by the UNDP Moldova, in partnership with the Central Electoral Commission and the Centre for Continuous Electoral Training, with the financial support of the American people provided through the United States Agency for International Development in Moldova (USAID).