Asia and the Pacific
Members of the Pacific Disability Forum (PDF), a regional disabled persons’ organization (DPO) provided insights on political participation in the Asia-Pacific region through a virtual roundtable. Participants, who took part in the Pacific Regional Disability Rights Dialogue organized by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), provided their answers via email; responses are presented below and have been lightly edited for clarity.
Bani Alfred, Disability Promotion & Advocacy Association – Alfred is a Communication Officer for DPA, a self-help umbrella body for persons with disabilities in Vanuatu.
Now Teewata Aromata, Kiribati – Aromata is working on a range of issues across different disciplines like Library, Education, Gender and CRPD and disability and was awarded the Kiribati National Order in 2009 for her hard work on disability progress in Kiribati.
Angeline Chand, Pacific Disability Forum – Chand is the DPO Development Officer for PDF and works on capacity-building and human rights training for DPOs in the Pacific.
Mary Dean, Cook Islands National Disability Council – Dean’s organization serves as the umbrella DPO for five Pa Enua Disability Centres.
Setareki Macanawai, Pacific Disability Forum – Macanawai has been CEO of the Pacific Disability Forum since January 2007 and previously served as the Executive Director of the Fiji National Council for Disabled Persons and Head teacher of the Fiji School for the Blind. He has served in numerous regional and international disability-related organizations and has been the recipient of several awards for outstanding academic achievements as well as leadership, service to and championing the rights of persons with disabilities.
Ruci Senikula, United Blind Persons of Fiji - Senikula is the secretary of the United Blind Persons of Fiji, an organization that advocate on behalf of persons with visual disabilities and provides services that are otherwise not available to the general public.
Aromata: People with disabilities in Kiribati do not fully participate equally with others, [for several reasons]: (1) Attitude from the community: there is an assumption that people with disabilities need to be taken care of, they are not clever because they do not go to school, (2) Unfriendly environment: this is to the infrastructure of the building where persons with disabilities have difficulty in entering the mwaneaba, or buildings to cast their vote, at the community level. (3) Lack of resources like assistive devises when people with disabilities want to vote; there is no braille for people who are blind to cast their vote. (4) Lack of access to education, sport, health, infrastructure, air and land transport, etc.
However, since the ratification of the CRPD in 2013, disability is now one of [the priority] issues [for] the Kiribati Government.
Chand: No, persons with disabilities are not able to participate on an equal basis with others because of certain environmental, communicational, institutional and attitudinal barriers.
Alfred: Persons with disabilities are not participating on equal basis with others in my country. This is because they are discriminated [against] and most people think that [a] person with disability should stay at home, not allowing them to go out and participate as said on the [United Nations] Convention Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Dean: Yes, [they do participate equally with others].
Senikula: No, to some extent. For example, in terms of equal access to transportation, persons with disabilities still face a lot of difficulties. In trying to get persons with disabilities to equally vote still has barriers in terms of access to transportation and access to the built environment.
Macanawai: In Fiji, the simple answer is not yet and to be fair to the country, the situation is improving largely related to the advocacy and awareness raising programs of disabled persons’ organizations in the country, as well as disability service providers and the national coordinating body on disability. Like other countries in the Pacific Islands region, governments and society at large are also becoming aware of the rights, potential and equal treatment of persons with disabilities. This positive change in probably the last 10 years is linked to the [United Nations Economic and Social Commission for the Asia-Pacific Region] UNESCAP Asia and Pacific Decades of Disabled Persons covering three decades under different themes and focus; 1992-2003, 2003-2012 and 2013-2022. The UNCRPD now ratified by eight and signed by five Pacific Island countries has also contributed significantly to this situation as governments begin to develop and adopt legislation and policies as well as budget provisions to improve services to persons with disabilities.
Alfred: (1) Accessibility - accessibility is one of the most common barriers that are face by person with disabilities in some of the Pacific Islands. (2) Attitudinal barriers – people’s attitudes towards persons with disability is also one of the most common barriers that persons with disability face in day to day living.
Senikula: Equal access to information in accessible formats, i.e sign language, easy to read formats, braille/large prints, audio formats.
Aromata: (1) Lack of understanding disability from the government and community; (2) Lack of access to infrastructure, resources, assistive devices; (3) Lack of inclusive policies; (4) Personal perception of people with disabilities themselves; (5) Lack of education. However, disability is slowly moving up and people in Kiribati especially the Government of Kiribati is working towards this through Ministries.
Chand: Inaccessible facilities, transport, education, health care, and sports, recreational, cultural activities.
Macanawai: Lack of awareness on the basic human rights of persons with disabilities by families and communities in particular. This barrier may be linked to the view that persons with disabilities are incapable of going to school, have jobs, get married and becoming contributing members of their families and society. Negative attitudes which may be associated with the barrier above and also exacerbated by stigma and perceptions about impairments to be a result of curse, witchcraft or parental misdeeds. Traditional view that persons with disabilities like the elderly should be looked after by their families, kept at home and remain dependent and poor. Disability services and programs largely concentrating in cities, towns and urban areas and are largely undertaken by non-governmental organizations which often operate under the charity model. Disability movement in the Pacific only gaining momentum across all Pacific Island countries in the last 5 years and DPOs becoming established and slowly rolling out programs that are often dependent on donor funding.
Dean: Usually lack of resources, for example, [those that improve] accessibility.
Macanawai: The Pacific Regional Disability Rights Dialogue spearheaded by [the International Foundation for Electoral Systems] IFES in Fiji in May this year was the first of its kind in this region. It certainly has triggered a series of activities in Fiji relating to the coming national election in 2018 under the leadership of the Fiji Election Office. We will need to track through our member DPOs what other positive changes have been witnessed in their countries after this regional workshop.
Senikula: Regional collaboration on disability has really been a major role in ensuring that the Fiji government provide accessible elections for the future 2018. Currently, the Fiji government is working tirelessly to ensure that all persons with disabilities under the voting age get registered and that come 2018, persons with disabilities will also enjoy and exercise their right to vote as any other Fijian citizen.
Dean: [One initiative as a result of regional collaboration would be] to be able to get a desk position to be set up for the elections [in Cook Islands], which will be held in 2018.
Alfred: In my country, [Vanuatu], persons with disability have been discriminated [against] a lot during election period. This is due to the inaccessible election venues, and during [the] election, persons with disability have been left behind not accessing their right to vote as stated on article 29.
Aromata: The election party work together with the DPO Kiribati which is Te Toa Matoa, and they came to the TTM centre and ask questions to TTM members. They also invite TTM to explain the Washington Questions. PDF also organized a workshop on statistics and elections and Officers from Statistics and Election office with Te Toa Matoa attended this workshop and they are informed on [the] Washington [Group] Questions [on disability statistics, which ask questions about functioning rather than asking respondents to identify as having a disability]. So in the election, the Washington Questions were used to capture the disability side. However, this [does] not fully capture the whole number of people with disabilities in Kiribati.
The regional collaboration on disability rights can help more through (1) Organizing trainings for TTM members and its stakeholders on issues that are needed such as elections, data collection or disability surveys; (2) Funding projects that are can help strengthen disability developments; (3) Building the capacity of TTM stakeholders towards the development of inclusive policies and inclusive programs.
Chand: There has been only one accessible elections workshop held in the Pacific so far in May 2016, which was very successful as it brought together many stakeholders including elections officials and DPOs. I believe such initiatives will be beneficial to the Pacific.
Senikula: I’d recommend to involve more persons with disabilities in national and regional consultations on accessible elections, have more representatives to join the Fiji Youth parliament as well as the Fiji Women parliament sessions etc.
Dean: I recommend that the election process be more inclusive of people with disabilities in the Cook Islands.
Aromata: The top recommendation for political participation is to involve top Government Leaders in the trainings on disabilities issues, e.g. When Pacific Disability Forum organized a training for DPOs, then Disability Focal points from Governments are to be included in those trainings so they are aware of what is really needed and targeted for Disability Development.
Second top recommendation is for allowing a Disability sector to be included in all governments’ first phase of development planning, e.g. DPO rep will be well represented in government planning.
Chand: Making elections accessible for all persons with disabilities. Allowing persons with disabilities to take a person of their choice to cast their vote. Providing equal opportunities to persons with disabilities to work as administrators at polling stations on an equal basis with others. Political parties recognizing the potential of persons with disabilities to be candidates for elections.
Alfred: The top recommendation is to advocate for person with disability would be able to access their right to vote and to make election venue accessible for all person with disabilities.
Macanawai: There is certainly a need for a follow up regional disability rights dialogue e.g. next year where new developments from Pacific Island countries resulting from the first dialogue can be shared which hopefully can trigger other positive response and progress in other countries in the region yet to make some significant change in their work in this area. Ongoing monitoring and follow up will still be necessary and maybe this is something that both the Pacific Disability Forum and Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat can be responsible for.
Many thanks to Setareki Macanawai and Angeline Chand of the Pacific Disability Forum for their support to this virtual roundtable!