Persons with disabilities should have the same access and opportunities to participate in political life as any other empowered citizen. The removal of barriers benefits not only citizens with disabilities but also society as a whole. As political parties and parliaments work to make their systems more equal for under-represented communities, they will find there are several advantages to becoming more inclusive.
Universal design is when products, services, and environments are designed so that they can be used by anyone regardless of age, disability, or other status. It requires thinking about inclusion at the very beginning of a design process, rather than trying to make programs or environments more inclusive at a later stage.
Persons with disabilities are not the only ones who benefit from a universal design approach. For example:
Using visual images and easy-to-read language for voter education campaign materials benefits persons with intellectual disabilities. It also benefits people who have low literacy, who are non-native speakers (which can include some deaf communities) or anyone who is quickly reading the document; and
Providing a quiet room for parliament staff offers a private space where staff members who are diabetic can take their medication or staff with anxiety can take a moment to destress. It also offers privacy for nursing mothers and a space for any employee who needs a short break. 43 Adopting universal design principles will ensure that political parties and parliaments are inclusive from the start.
Responding to Recent Trends
International support for accessibility and disability rights has gained notable momentum since the passage of CRPD in 2006. Increasingly, it is expected that institutions, including political institutions, will strive to minimize and eliminate barriers to participation and leadership for all.
As political parties and parliaments build accessible pathways for persons with disabilities to participate in political life, they are aligning their work with international commitments. They are also clearly demonstrating their strong support for human rights, which is an encouraging attribute for voters, political party members, campaign donors and political leadership at both international and national levels.
Proactively taking steps to ensure that persons with disabilities are included in political and public life is in alignment with international, regional, and national commitments that have been made to combat inequality. For example, including persons with disabilities in political life directly supports commitments and recommendations made through the SDGs, the CRPD and CPOL commitments.
Above all, the inclusion of persons with disabilities in political life empowers and strengthens democracy itself. Equal political participation of everyone is a building block for ensuring that the members and leaders of political parties and parliaments better reflect the societies they serve. Greater diversity in a political community will also lead to a more robust understanding of the impact of laws and decisions on persons with disabilities, and safeguard against the invisibility of one of the largest underrepresented communities in political life.