In 2007, an estimated 10 percent of the population of Nicaragua was composed of persons with disabilities. According to the country's National Institute of Statistics and Census, this number is growing by almost 3 percent a year. This documentary shows how the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and its local partners, namely the SOLIDEZ Foundation, implemented the first-ever projects to help those with disabilities in Nicaragua.
Narrator: According to official statistics roughly 500,000 Nicaraguans live with some kind of disability. Of those 500,000, approximately 60 percent are eligible to vote. To date, no information exists regarding the number of persons with disabilities who participate in elections. However, electoral authorities agree that a lack of motivation and structural limitations in polling centers are some of the principal obstacles that limit the inclusion of disabled persons in electoral processes.
Given the above difficulties, the November 2006 national elections provided an excellent opportunity for IFES and SOLIDEZ Foundation to bring together their respective expertise and experience in electoral administration and services in support of disabled persons, and to determine for the first time the level of participation of disabled voters in the electoral process.
To accomplish these goals IFES and SOLIDEZ Foundation counted on the financial support of the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Swedish International Development Agency. The first meetings between IFES and the SOLIDEZ Foundation in July 2006, allowed representatives from the two organizations to exchange information and agree on a timeline for program activities. The 19 disabled women’s organizations of the SOLIDEZ Foundation as well as the organizations affiliated with FECONORI took part in this initiative, which was recognized officially by the Supreme Electoral Council of Nicaragua, the government agency charged with organizing the election.
In these meetings IFES explained the electoral calendar and voting center logistics and organization to the representatives of the various disabled citizen organizations. Participating organizations proposed that SOLIDEZ Foundation implement a public assistance project during the following three months which would facilitate and promote the vote of disabled citizens. This was the first officially recognized disabled voters program addressing issues such as electoral materials for the vision-impaired and access to polling facilities for disabled voters. The cutting edge quality of the program stimulated great interest among the participating organizations. These organizations also considered the training and mobilization of facilitators to assist disabled voters in exercising their right to vote in polling centers.
This project was implemented in three phases. The first phase consisted of creating a national network of collaborators and supporters at the community level from which SOLIDEZ identified 30 local project promoters. These promoters were responsible for completing a diagnostic of 832 of the country’s more than 4,000 polling centers, which evaluated the state in each facility and identified physical barriers limiting the ability of disabled voters to access these polling centers on Election Day. The diagnostic determined 247 polling centers presented significant obstacles for disabled voters. After evaluating facility limitations IFES and SOLIDEZ decided to construct 213 portable wheelchair ramps to improve accessibility to these facilities.
In the second and third phases SOLIDEZ trained 1,121 disabled voter facilitators and 1,575 polling center facilitators to assist disabled voters in the polls on Election Day. Many of the facilitators were relatives of disabled citizens or members of civil society organizations who were motivated by the importance of this project to enfranchise disabled persons. In addition to training the facilitators, the SOLIDEZ Foundation provided each facilitator with special identification materials and credentials to ensure access to polling stations on Election Day.
In an effort to inform the general public of this innovative program, IFES and the SOLIDEZ Foundation held a press conference on October 25th with representatives from Nicaragua’s principle media outlets. Participants in the press conference included Adonai Jiménez, the CSE director of electoral operations; María Felix Herrera, President of the SOLIDEZ Foundation; Dr. Rafael López-Pintor, IFES Chief of Party in Nicaragua; and Dr. Guillermo Gosebruch, Executive Secretary of the National Council on Rehabilitation. During the press conference, IFES and SOLIDEZ unveiled a media campaign designed to motivate disabled citizens to vote and to inform them, their families and the rest of the Nicaraguan population of the importance of disabled citizens’ participation in the election; not just to elect new authorities but also as an opportunity to achieve disabled persons’ integration in Nicaragua’s social and political life.
The press conference also provided an opportunity for IFES and SOLIDEZ to educate the public on the purpose of the facilitators and explain the identification and credentials each would be carrying on Election Day. In order to adequately coordinate program activities on Election Day, SOLIDEZ Foundation personnel deployed throughout the country allowing the Foundation to immediately respond to emerging problems and to coordinate more effectively with each municipality’s Electoral Council.
According to data gathered on Election Day, November 5th 2006, a total of 65,000 disabled citizens exercised their right to vote in Nicaragua, of which an estimated 10,000 benefited from the wheelchair ramps and/or facilitators provided by this program. In addition to assisting disabled persons, SOLIDEZ Foundation also provided vital support to pregnant women, chronically ill persons, and seniors in accessible polling stations in casting their votes on Election Day. The 11 municipalities in which detailed information could be collected, facilitators assisted a total of 3,672 individuals, including 1,951 women and 1,632 men, and which 2,937 suffered from physical impairments, 411 suffered from sensory impairments, and 215 suffered from mental impairments.
Having completed this program and analyzed its results, we can affirm that its outcome represents an important step towards the promotion of disabled voters’ rights. It also provided an opportunity to compile data and experience which will be invaluable in the development of programs to support the political participation of persons with disabilities in future elections. ”I believe this program was an important first step in supporting disabled voters. It provided valuable experience which will help us to create an opening for greater electoral participation of persons with disabilities, and encouraged us to continue working to secure the participation of disabled citizens in future elections.”
-- End of transcript --