Accessible Elections: Participation of Persons With Disabilities in Political and Public Life – Serbia 2014
Associates and monitors:
- Goran Lončar – Centre for Society Orientation (COD)
- Iva Danilović – Belgrade Center for Human Rights
- Desanka Žižić – Association of Serbian Sign Language Interpreters
- Biljana Janjić – Mental Disability Rights Initiative – Serbia
- Jelena Avramović – National Democratic Institute (NDI)
- Vesna Nestorović – Association White Cane
- Vidan Danković – Accessibility Audit Association
- Radovan Radulović – Association Will for Life
- Mihailo Gordić – Belgrade’s organization of Deaf
- Ana Pavlović – National Blind Association.
Click here to download a Word Doc of this report (DOCX – 1,700 KB)
- General Overview
- Systemic Monitoring
- Media Monitoring
- Individual Experiences
- Annex 1
Monitoring the participation of persons with disabilities in public and political life, including the accessibility of the electoral process in 2014 in the Republic of Serbia is the focus of this report. Based on the individual experiences of persons with disabilities (monitoring individual experiences), media monitoring and analysis of the laws and policies (system monitoring), this publication attempts in a comprehensive (holistic) way to assess the degree of participation of persons with disabilities in social processes, to point out the problems and the ability to overcome them in order to achieve full participation of persons with disabilities in political and public life without discrimination.
The right to vote belongs to the fundamental rights and it applies not only to the electoral process, but also to the active social inclusion with the impact on the development processes. Exclusion from this process is primarily reflected in the approach that persons with disabilities in the same way participate in the elections and it points to the fact that a large number of persons with disabilities are affected by the inaccessibility. The voting right of all citizens is included in international human rights instruments, such as Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees the right of all citizens to participate in the government directly or through freely chosen representatives, or in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which guarantees the right of all citizens to elect and to be elected. With the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol, the Republic of Serbia is obliged to guarantee persons with disabilities the enjoyment of political rights on the basis of equality, i.e. to elect and to be elected, by ensuring accessible and easy to understand election process, polling stations and election materials. Secrecy of voting is one of the fundamental democratic principles and it must be met by facilitating the use of assistive and new technologies. Promotion of inclusive environment free of discrimination involves participation of persons with disabilities in all public activities, including the conduct of political parties. Increasing the participation of persons with disabilities in political and public life at all levels is also the target of the Council of Europe Disability Action Plan by 2015.
According to the 2011 Census in the Republic of Serbia, published by the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia, out of the total population of 7,186,862 people, 7.96% or 571,780 residents identified themselves as persons with disabilities1. According to the type of disability, the highest percentage refers to persons with mobility impairments and the least to people with communication problems. The average age of persons with disabilities is 67, while in the total population with disabilities women have a higher share of 58.2%. According to the civil society organizations, the number of persons with disabilities could be much higher, and the number of persons who have the right to vote could be close to a census required for participation in the parliamentary life of political parties, which only indicates the fact how important it is to enable persons with disabilities to participate equally in the electoral process and the creation and implementation of policies relating to disability, but also in other spheres of social life.
- Note #1
- Population, Disability (data by municipalities and cities), Census of Population, Households and Dwellings in the Republic of Serbia, Republic of Serbia, Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia, Belgrade 2013
Information about the project
The project “Accessible elections” was supported by the British Embassy in Belgrade and is implemented in partnership with the National Democratic Institute (NDI). The project builds on the established mechanism for monitoring the respect for the rights of persons with disabilities in the Republic of Serbia and uses access to disability based on human rights in monitoring, the exercise of political rights of persons with disabilities, that is, systemic discrimination and exclusion of persons with disabilities from political life. Knowledge about human rights violations based on facts and evidence will be an important tool for initiating social changes, changes in policies and programmes that would lead to the enhancement of political participation of persons with disabilities in the Republic of Serbia.
In order to gain an insight into the human rights violations of persons with disabilities, the project uses a holistic approach to monitoring. The methodology consists of three elements and focus areas: monitoring of individual experiences, which included 59 interviews with persons with disabilities, systemic monitoring with the aim to provide an overview of laws, policies and programmes in the area of political participation of persons with disabilities and their shortcomings, as well as media monitoring, in order to gain an insight into the accessibility of information for persons with disabilities during political campaigns, as well as the representation of issues relevant to persons with disabilities.
Holistic approach to monitoring of human rights of persons with disabilities is based on fundamental principles of human rights contained in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: dignity, autonomy, non-discrimination and equality, participation, inclusion and accessibility and respect for diversity.
Structure of the Report
The report “Accessible elections” is consisted of several parts. The first part, which refers to a general overview of the participation of persons with disabilities in political and public life was made by the representatives of civil society organizations from different perspectives in the field of disability, which resulted in the inclusion of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual and psychosocial disabilities. Part that is related to systemic monitoring presents an analysis of the legal framework relating to participation in public and political life, with reference to international instruments relating to the Republic of Serbia. Media monitoring is divided into two parts, the first part focuses on the accessibility of campaign content for deaf and hard of hearing persons, while the second part analyses the representation of disability issues in the print media, which applies to all persons with disabilities. Finally, part which is based on research that has included persons with disabilities brings monitoring of the human rights and analyses individual experiences of persons with disabilities related to the electoral process in 2014, i.e. participation in public and political life.
General Overview of the Participation of Persons With Disabilities in Political and Public Life
Participation of persons with physical disabilities
The Constitution and legislation provide conditions for full accessibility of buildings, programmes and activities of political parties for undisturbed participation of persons with disabilities. However, bylaws, regulations and practice do not follow the conditions laid down by the Constitution and laws. Political parties very rarely have committees that deal with this issue outside the field of social policy and/or protection of the rights of minority and vulnerable groups. According to the information of the Accessibility Audit Association of Serbia, no political party has a person in charge to deal with issues of accessibility of political party facilities, web presentations and communication with citizens.
The elections are held at polling station, without prior assessment of the accessibility of the premises.
Barriers to the exercise of the guaranteed rights
We consider that the main obstacle to the realization of guaranteed rights is the lack of procedures. If there is an explicit prohibition of denial of access to public buildings, areas, services and public transport in the Law on Prevention of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities, and that there is a need to make necessary adjustments, it remains unclear to what extent and by what standards. Namely, there is only one bylaw: Regulation on Technical Accessibility Standards (2013), specifying technical standards to be applied in order to building became accessible. This bylaw enumerates all standards pertaining to the construction of the building, but not specific situations during necessary adaptations, i.e. measures necessary to be taken during the adaptation of the building to become accessible. For that reason, scope and standards for providing access are reduced merely to the assessment of persons responsible for carrying out the necessary adaptations that may or may not have to meet the requirements of the Regulation on Technical Accessibility Standards.
Even more complex is the question of ensuring the accessibility of information. There is a general provision in the Law on Public Information that all information must be accessible to persons with disabilities, but there is not even one bylaw, which specifies what is meant by that.
Recommendations for improving the situation
- It is necessary that each political party have a document, which specifies the procedures that provide accessibility of party facilities, information and communication.
- Every building in which voting is organized must pass the accessibility assessment.
- When designing and adapting buildings intended for public use, introduce the obligation of delivery of additional documentation – the Accessibility study where all the elements of accessibility with detailed descriptions will be listed.
Participation of deaf and hard of hearing people
Deaf persons, who also use sign language, belong to culturally and linguistically diverse Community of Deaf People2. In terms of access, they are faced with similar problems as people who come from different cultural and linguistic environment. Although hard of hearing people generally identify themselves with the dominating culture of people who can hear, they are faced with the difficulties of participation in political and public life on a daily basis. Common for individuals from both models of deafness is communication, although in terms of accessibility and ways of information they are considerably different.
- Note #2
- The big ‘D’ is used to indicate the Deaf community as a society that is considered to be the bearer of the cultural and linguistic identity that is expressed using natural sign language – in this case, Serbian SL. However, little ‘d’ is used when we talk generally about deaf people as potential users of sign language and interpreting services because all of these individuals do not perceive themselves as ‘Deaf’ in a cultural sense, although using sign language in any form. (Guidelines for working with deaf and hard of hearing people, GOGB, 2014)
Although in legislation Serbian sign language (SSL) is affirmative and legal means of communication of the deaf community in Serbia, there is no institution that deals with documenting, standardisation, teaching and promotion of sign language. The draft law on the use of sign language3 is in the form of a draft since 2009, and although the public debate is finished, there is still no indication that it would soon be in the parliamentary procedure.
- Note #3
- At the public hearing on the Draft Law on the Use of Sign Language, the Association of Serbian Sign Language, the interpreters emphasized that sign language is not universal and that it should be talked about sign languages, or Serbian Sign Language. Link to PDF about Serbian Sign Language
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities4 recognizes the linguistic rights of the Deaf community and its linguistic identity. Article 9, which refers to the accessibility, guarantees the right to interact in sign language (obtaining information and expression in sign language in official communication). The same article identifies the need for qualified sign language interpreters. Article 29, guarantees deaf and hard of hearing people political rights and the opportunity to enjoy these rights on an equal basis with others, among others, by ensuring that the electoral process, electoral sites and materials are appropriate, accessible and easy to understand, that is, to be available in Serbian sign language.
- Note #4
- ”Official Gazette of the Republic of Serbia“, 42-09
Barriers to the exercise of the guaranteed rights
There are no regulations or documents that clearly defines the ways of achieving legal rights, therefore the implementation is unsatisfactory. With the adoption of the Draft Law on the Use of Sign Language, each deaf individual will have a precondition for full participation in public life. The law has not yet been adopted, and we believe that the main obstacles to the adoption of this law are lack of qualified personnel and financial resources for its implementation. Linguistic and cultural barriers are present – lack of institutions dealing with documenting, standardising and promoting SSL. Also, there is a lack of adequate training of Serbian sign language for deaf persons, as well as teachers of deaf children and future Serbian interpreters for sign language. Technical and technological barriers are identified as lack of video relay service, emergency service for deaf persons and others. There is also lack of awareness of the community on issues affecting the community of deaf and hard of hearing people. Also, there is alarmingly low number of interpreters for sign language5.
- Note #5
- According to the Association of Deaf and Hard of Hearing of Serbia have information, there are 30,000 deaf and hard of hearing 100,000 people in Serbia. Association of Deaf and Hard of Hearing of Serbia keeps a register of 84 sign language interpreters, among which only 30 are actively engaged in translation/interpretation
Recommendations for improving the situation
- In order for members of the Deaf community to have an opportunity to adequately enjoy their active and passive voting rights, i.e. to elect and be elected and to participate in political and public life, it is necessary to legally regulate the use of sign language. This would allow deaf people to receive and convey the information in the first language, by using an interpreter for the Serbian sign language. For full participation it is necessary that the largest possible part of the political content be adapted and translated into SSL. Providing interpreters is the requirement for undisturbed communication and adequate participation of deaf people in political life. In this sense, it is necessary to provide interpreters at all political rallies, parliamentary TV broadcasts, TV shows, gatherings and other political events. In addition to the SSL translation, broadcasters should subtitle content that is broadcasted as much as possible.
- At the polling sites, if members of the polling board do not know the Serbian sign language, it is necessary to have visual information on the procedure for voting and all polling places should have an induction loop6.
- Note #6
- Induction loop or ring transmission is a system for the improvement of the sound environment in a particular area (e.g. over the counter, in the waiting room, conference room, etc.)
- It is necessary to develop and accredit training programmes for interpreters of Serbian sign language, as well as promote the availability of interpreters in order to make public events, media and any other content accessible to the Deaf community, which is a necessary step for its greater participation.
- In order to enable the Deaf community greater participation in political and public life, the Government of the Republic of Serbia and the relevant ministries should provide recognition of a specific cultural and linguistic identity of the deaf and hard of hearing persons on an equal basis with others, including sign languages and culture, and provide appropriate support in order to exercise their identity.
At the polling place no. 178 in the High School of Economics “Svetozar Miletić” in Novi Sad, there is no accessible entrance to the building where the voting takes place. At the entrance there are two steps without a ramp for wheelchairs and without handrails that would enable people with mobility problems to enter the building more easily. In addition, the steps are damaged and made of a material that is slippery in the case of the wet surface, which further complicates the movement. The door width at the entrance is not sufficient and it significantly hampers the movement of persons with disabilities. Inside the building, after the entrance from the street, there are additional 12 steps without ramp or moving platform for wheelchair users but with a handrail that makes movement easier. The voting is taking place on the ground floor, in the first classroom after the entrance steps. The width of the classroom door is adequate for wheelchair users, but there is a threshold that makes it difficult to enter the room. The height of ballot boxes is at the appropriate height and there is enough space for wheelchair users to make a man manoeuvre in the room. In the immediate vicinity of polling places there is properly marked parking space intended for persons with disabilities, but it is on the opposite side of the street and the kerb on the side where the school is located is not dropped, and there is no marked pedestrian crossing that would allow a smooth transition.