IACHR Notes Progress on the Right to Vote for People with Disabilities in the Americas

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WASHINGTON.- To mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which is observed on December 3, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) wishes to acknowledge the progress it has noted on people with disabilities’ right to vote in the elections that took place in the countries of the Americas in 2018.

The IACHR urges the member states of the Organization of American States (OAS) to take measures to ensure that people with disabilities can participate fully in political processes by building inclusive spaces for all such people and guaranteeing them the right to vote free from discrimination.

Over the course of 2018, the IACHR and its Unit on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities monitored the situation regarding people with disabilities’ right to vote in the elections that took place in several countries in the Americas.

The IACHR compiled information on trends in the region, and identified that the positive practices adopted by states such as Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Paraguay, and Venezuela included measures to guarantee polling station accessibility for people with physical disabilities, allowing people with disabilities to be assisted in the voting booth by a person of their choice should they so request, and implementing public campaigns to raise awareness of the rights of people with disabilities.

At the same time, the IACHR noted that there are still major challenges to be overcome if people with disabilities are to fully enjoy the right to vote in the region. Most importantly, the IACHR observes that not recognizing people with disabilities as having full legal capacity implies denying those who are under guardianship regimes the right to vote.

The IACHR identified other related challenges that persist in the region, including the discrimination faced by people with psychosocial disabilities when exercising their right to vote and the lack of human rights–focused training among electoral officials on the rights of people with disabilities.

According to the Inter-American Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities, states must adopt measures to eliminate discrimination and promote the inclusion of people with disabilities in political activities.

Likewise, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities establishes that states must guarantee the political rights of people with disabilities on an equal basis with others. This implies guaranteeing their right to vote as a way to express their will and participate in the political and public life of their country.

Commissioner Francisco Eguiguren, who heads the IACHR’s Unit on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, commented on the findings: “While we commend the progress that has been made on people with disabilities’ right to vote in the region, further efforts need to be made if all people with disabilities are to be fully recognized as citizens.

People with disabilities’ right to vote cannot be restricted simply because of misperceptions about disability. We must understand that we are all citizens with the right to vote. States cannot allow people with disabilities to continue to be treated as being less capable than people without disabilities.”

Margarette May Macaulay, president of the IACHR, said: “Denying someone the right to vote because of a disability is a form of discrimination that directly affects democracy, as it leads to false perceptions of what it means to be a citizen who is capable of voting. Without this right, other efforts to include people with disabilities and promote their participation in political life are no more than good intentions.

If we deny people with disabilities the right to vote, we are denying them the right to choose. In other words, we are continuing to usurp their will. States must implement measures that truly enable all people with disabilities to participate in the political life of their country.”

The IACHR stresses how important it is for people with disabilities to take part in their country’s different political spheres as a way of strengthening democracy. It also urges states to take measures to ensure the full inclusion of people with disabilities in society, in line with the disability approach enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

It further advises states to continue advancing toward guaranteeing that people with disabilities can exercise the right to vote as a form of inclusion in state decisions.

The IACHR also calls on OAS member states to ratify the Inter-American Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities.

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