Braille used in Moldova to offer equal access to electoral information
In November 2018, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 4 January as World Braille Day. On this day, the whole world celebrates the importance of the Braille alphabet as communication means to fulfill the realization of human rights for the blind and visually impaired. 4 January is the birthday of Louis Braille, the creator of this writing system. This international day is marked for the third time by the United Nations.
Over the years, UNDP Moldova has initiated and conducted with its partners various projects to make information accessible, especially electoral information, including by using Braille system. Victor Koroli, the executive director of the INFONET Alliance, has implemented several projects in this field, including with the support of UNDP and in partnership with the Central Electoral Commission.
- Mr. Koroli, Braille is essential in the context of education, freedom of expression and opinion, as well as social inclusion, as reflected in article 2 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. How used is Braille in Moldova?
The Braille system was created in 1819 by a French military as a communication form during night. Louis Braille refined and so it became a method of tactile reading that the world has known for about 200 years.
In Moldova, there are approx. 15,000 people with visual impairments, and the number of those who know the Braille alphabet is about 2,500.
What is important to mention is that in the “people with disabilities’ world” there are no universal solutions.
The Braille system is a simple and effective way to fulfill the realization of human rights for the blind and visually impaired. It is a demonstration of professionalism, independence and equality.
Education or any kind of skills are a precious treasure for every person, being stored in the depths of consciousness and at the right moment could play a positive role in a concrete situation. Particularly important is the Braille system for children, because the acquisition of writing skills, in addition to literacy, develops and forms features of mental processes and character traits.
The person who studies Braille improves his/her attention, thinking, forms ideas about the world around him/her, but also develops fine motor skills of the hands, which later become his/her eyes.
- When was Braille used to disseminate information on voting and civic education to voters? How would you describe these practices?
In 2010, when the president of the Association of the Blind in Moldova was elected, a prototype of an inclusive ballot was piloted: on yellow paper, large font and text dubbed in Braille.
In the context of the general local elections of 14 June 2015, the Voter's Guide in Braille was published for the first time. Since then, for each elections, the Voter’s Guide is made available also in Braille. I remember the 2019 parliamentary elections, which took place based on a new electoral system, and the INFONET Alliance, with the support of UNDP, developed a Braille version of the brochures “Democracy Matters — Participate!” and “Democracy can be learned”.
These practices have been welcomed with great enthusiasm by the community of visually impaired people in the Republic of Moldova, as they represent a peer-to-peer communication, demonstrate an understanding of special needs, ensure access to information and show openness to community issues.
- In 2020, an electoral year, but also affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, people with visual impairments were a group that were equally affected by the life under lockdown. The pandemic has shown how important it is to create access to information in formats such as Braille or audio versions. From what you know, how did people with visual impairments manage to find out about the presidential elections?
In 2020, in order to inform people with visual impairments, the following were published and disseminated:
· Voter’s Guide (in Braille system and in audio format on CD — distributed through CECOGRAMA (explanatory note — letter in Braille, sent by post) on the addresses of the territorial organizations of the Association of the Blind in Moldova)
· Electronic Bulletin “Pro Accessibility, Pro Inclusion, Pro Democracy” (periodical publication, distributed by email and social networks)
These are either official publications of the Central Electoral Commission, adapted by non-profit organizations in accessible formats, or are the CSO’s initiatives. However, we are pleasantly surprised that an electoral candidate (Maia Sandu) has published her electoral platform in Braille.
-In your opinion, what other electoral information materials would be useful to develop and adapt in Braille in 2021?
· Voter’s Guide and The Electoral Calendar (in case of early parliamentary elections)
· The brochure "Democracy can be learned" (for children and young people)
· “The Hedgehog Arci” collection (for children)
- UNDP has been one of the promoters of different sources of information and accessibility for all groups of voters. In the context of these efforts and the efforts of the Government of the Republic of Moldova, and also of the community/civil society, how much has the accessibility of electoral processes evolved in recent years?
Last years, thanks to the efforts of the development partners, especially UNDP, several inclusive models for the realization of the political rights of persons with disabilities have been piloted and implemented in Moldova:
· Ballot sleeve
· Publications in accessible formats (Braille, audio, “easy to read — easy to understand”, with translation into sign language)
· Closed Circuit Television System
· Sign language translators at the Central Electoral Commission and the polling stations
· Social taxi for transporting voters with disabilities
· Evaluation of the accessibility conditions of the polling stations
· Election monitoring missions (with the participation of people with disabilities) etc.
All these achievements place Moldova and the Central Electoral Commission in a favorable light and are taken as an example at the regional level in the field of inclusiveness of people with disabilities. But more importantly, they have made electoral processes more accessible and supported voters’ political rights. And people with disabilities, starting from their political rights, have shown pro-active behavior and conducted effective advocacy campaigns to stand up for other fundamental rights: access to information and education, employment and equal access to culture.
Interview conducted by UNDP Moldova in the framework of the “Enhancing democracy in Moldova through inclusive and transparent elections” project, implemented with the support of the American people, provided through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Learn more about our work in this field at undp.md/electoral-support