Asia and the Pacific
Persons with disabilities living in areas that are rural or remote encounter additional barriers to participating in public life. According to the World Health Organization’s 2011 World Report on Disability, persons with disabilities are affected by poor coordination of service delivery and inadequate resources. Persons with disabilities in remote and rural communities experience an amplification of this gap.
Rural areas typically lack the robust infrastructure of cities, including both physical infrastructure such as roads and accessible buildings and institutions like local governments to deliver services. Remote locations may not have frequent communication with government officials. When participating in political life, these barriers exacerbate the challenges faced by persons with disabilities to take part in activities such as voting, attending political party meetings, and running for office.
“Elections for persons with disabilities living in the rural areas in Fiji has a lot of challenges. Women with disabilities face barriers in accessing their rights to vote as many a times, the voting venue is either not accessible or too far from their homes, therefore, not allowing them to exercise their rights. In the outer islands, sign language services are not provided and in the case where deaf voters wish to take someone whom they know and trust to help them cast their votes, this is strictly forbidden.”
- Ruci Senikula, United Blind Persons of Fiji
At the Pacific Regional Disability Rights Dialogue organized by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), Pacific Disability Rights Forum (PDF), Fijian Elections Office (FEO), and Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) and supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), a panel discussion explored the obstacles to participation of persons with disabilities in rural and remote areas and women with disabilities. As noted by Teewata Aromata of Te Toa Matoa, a disabled persons’ organization (DPO) in Kiritbati, traditional construction of buildings often leads to inaccessible polling places, 90% of which are above ground level. Structures in Kiribati often are built on stilts because of seasonal rains and subsequent flooding. As a result, buildings often do not have an accessible entrance. Additionally, the physical landscape of rural communities in Kiribati is likely not to include paved roads, providing barriers to movement, which could impact the ability of persons with disabilities to travel to polling stations on Election Day.
“Participation of person with disabilities in rural areas are not equally with the people living with other they are being discriminate and women are mostly discriminated. They are being look down as someone who is not able to do something or just can’t do it. Person with disability are left behind and not giving them a chance to enjoy their human rights as other people in the community.”
- Bani Alfred, Disability Promotion and Advocacy Association, Vanuatu
Some potential challenges in remote areas may include lack of access to training on assisting voters with disabilities, limited resources for developing accessible informational materials, low literacy and low braille literacy, physical inaccessibility of polling places and other official buildings, and negative attitudes toward active engagement of persons with disabilities as a result of stigma.