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The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) has published “Guidelines on Promoting the Political Participation of Persons with Disabilities” with the purpose to be a practical resource for OSCE participating States to strengthen the ability of democratic institutions – namely, political parties and parliaments – to engage and empower persons with disabilities in political processes.
According to World Health Organization statistics, around 1 billion people in the world have some form of disability. However, persons with disabilities remain largely under-represented in democratic structures, parliaments and political parties across the OSCE region.
A number of significant obstacles negatively affect the engagement of persons with disabilities in political life. Among them are lack of access to parliaments and information on political issues, insufficient support, national laws permitting deprivation of legal capacity, and prevailing stereotypes about persons with disabilities and their possible contribution to political processes and decision-making. These all contribute to further exclusion and segregation of persons with disabilities. For women with disabilities it means facing additional challenges, as a result of persisting inequalities and discrimination based on both gender and disability.
Participation of persons with disabilities in political, public and social life is crucial to fighting existing stereotypes, prejudices and segregation. Exclusion of certain groups from decision-making processes creates not only more divided and potentially less peaceful societies, but also significantly weakens the excluded group’s opportunities to defend its own interests. Ensuring that persons with disabilities take an active role in the political and public life of their societies, thus, contributes both to stronger respect for their rights and to more disability-mainstreamed legal and policy frameworks that better reflect the needs of all community members.
The right to equal political participation has a prominent place in the OSCE Human Dimension Commitments. The OSCE 1990 Copenhagen Document 1990 recognized “the right of citizens to seek political or public office, individually or as representatives of political parties or organizations, without discrimination.” In the 1991 Moscow Document, participating States agreed to “take steps to ensure the equal opportunity of persons with disabilities to participate fully in the life of their society and to promote the appropriate participation of such persons in decision-making in fields concerning them.” These commitments also reflect the approach taken by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). As a leading international treaty in the field of disability rights, it has been signed or ratified by most OSCE participating States.
To ensure that these obligations are met by all OSCE participating States, a number of challenges need to be addressed, including raising awareness about the right of persons with disabilities to participate in political and public life, recognizing the preconditions for effective participation, ensuring an accessible environment, information and infrastructure, and addressing prevailing stereotypes and prejudices.
The aim of the Guidelines is to assist participating States in ensuring that persons with disabilities can fully and effectively participate in political and public life on an equal basis with others. The Guidelines describe challenges that persons with disabilities face and provide guidance and concrete recommendations on what steps parliaments, political parties and civil society organizations should undertake to ensure that democratic institutions and decision-making processes are more inclusive and accessible for persons with various types of disabilities.
The Guidelines recognize that disability is an ever-evolving concept and, thus, do not place restrictions on what qualifies as a disability. They follow the CPRD definition of the concept, and are based on the human rights-based approach to disability.