This can be because of barriers including stigma, discrimination and inaccessible political processes. In some cases, they are even denied their right to vote.
In Cameroon and Senegal, together with our partners and disability organisations, we are promoting inclusive elections. This includes making sure that people with disabilities can access polling booths and cast their votes independently, advocating for political parties to address disability issues and encouraging people with disabilities to stand as candidates.
Isseu, Léonie and Seynabou are three people helping to make equal access to political participation a reality.
“I am the president of the Association of People with Physical Disabilities in Kaolack, Senegal. We aim to assist people with disabilities to fight for their needs to be answered; to fight for their education, their health, mobility and accessibility.
“There are many issues about voting. For people with physical impairments, stairs can be an issue. For people with visual impairments, the secret of their vote is not respected. For people who cannot speak, no interpreter is provided.
“There are many people with disabilities who do not have birth certificates. Generally, when children are born with disabilities, parents do not consider them as full citizens, and don’t try to find birth certificates for them. But without such papers you cannot have an identity card and a voting card. So they cannot take part in the voting process.
“Voting is a right for everybody. We, people with disabilities, should have the right to choose our candidate, the one who will take our concerns into account.
“I am a candidate in the city I live in, and I aim to be a councillor. In future, I want to be a member of parliament. People look up to me and respect me. A woman with a disability in a position of power would be a good reference for people. I can be an example for young people with disabilities: they will know that they can succeed tomorrow.”
“I am a student at the University of Yaoundé and I am in several associations, but I am most engaged in the Cameroon National Association of Hearing-Impaired Persons. Our objective is to empower people with disabilities.
“I have a hearing impairment – I decided to get involved and to join the association and I’m now the secretary general. I like this job because it helps me to help other people who are not familiar with development issues. It also helps me to help other people to be equal and to defend themselves in the social field.
“We have many difficulties; there are always difficulties. For example, there is gender-based violence, psychological violence, stereotypes and prejudices. It is not easy, but we try to adapt.
“Sightsavers offered us training. It gave us the opportunity to learn about different methods to fight against gender-based violence. [The workshop run by Sightsavers] allowed us to know the structures that can help us and increased our knowledge and experience. The workshop also helped us to see that we must have self-confidence and we should be able to say no to gender-based violence. This is very important. We must also denounce violence; we must not be afraid.
“I lead an organisation for people with visual impairments that is a member of Senegal’s National Federation of Disabled People, which works with Sightsavers. I represent the women in my organisation, and I am part of the women’s committee, where I make the link between women with disabilities and other women’s organisations.
“It’s important for people with disabilities to vote because they are citizens in their own right, so they must exercise their rights as citizens. Voting is part of citizenship and is a universal responsibility. Every human has the right to vote.
“People with visual impairments are faced with many obstacles in elections because a secret ballot cannot be guaranteed. The law gives them the right to assistance when voting, but this doesn’t always guarantee that they can vote properly and choose the candidate they want.
“We know that this has happened before. A woman went to vote with her child, and the child told her that the person helping her put the wrong ballot in the envelope. This is because the ballot papers are not in braille. We want this situation to change.
“What I recommend is for people with disabilities to engage in politics. If we, as people with disabilities, are not in decision-making bodies, it is a problem. If we are there, we can be involved in defending our rights.”
Images © Sightsavers/Javier Acebal, Manuella Sali