In July 2012, the United Nations produced and aired a short video about election observers with disabilities working in the capital of Dili and elsewhere to monitor the elections and how accessible they were for persons with disabilities.
Narrator (woman): It’s parliamentary Election Day in Timor-Leste. Joel Fernandez arrives at the polling station. He’s here not just as a voter, but also as an election observer. This year is the first time that Timor-Leste has election observers with disabilities. There are nineteen of them monitoring in the capital daily and in four districts.
Man (Joel Fernandez): We’re looking more at the issue of access and seeing how people with disabilities cast their vote. We also want to see the voting booth, whether it is too high or too low. Overall, we look at whether or not it is easy for people with disabilities to vote.
Narrator: Sylvia da Costa Soares contracted polio as a child. She is also working as an observer in the 2012 elections. Sylvia says that living with a disability in Timor-Leste means overcoming challenges even at the ballot box.
Woman (Sylvia): A few months ago we made some comments about the voting booth because people in the wheelchair can’t access the booth. It is too high, and the other comment we made was about the entrance, the doorways are too small, wheelchairs cannot enter.
Narrator: According to the 2010 census, over 6% of Timor-Leste’s population has a disability. Many of those have sight impairment. Relatives or friends accompany them to vote to help mark the cross on the ballot paper.
Woman (Paulina Soares Sequiera): I feel very happy that I also have the same rights as people who are able to see.
Narrator: Election observers like Joel and Sylvia ensure that the rights and needs of people with disabilities are not overlooked.
Man (Louis Gentile): Who better than persons with disabilities themselves to be actual registered certified observers, to make recommendations about improving access to the right to vote, about the entire electoral system. They know better than anyone else what challenges they face, how things can be improved to realize that fundamental right for themselves and for the people they represent.
Narrator: Timor-Leste is empowering people with disabilities. We’re not just a vote, but also a voice in the election, making recommendations to ensure that all people can exercise their democratic rights.
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