Voters with disabilities have faced barriers to enjoying their right to vote. In many cases, physical barriers in Armenia are associated with the 1988 earthquake and the ongoing conflict with Azerbaijan. Additionally, there is growing public stigma that effectively serves to disenfranchise people with disabilities. The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and the Disabled Center for Development of Education and Culture (PAROS), a local coalition of nine disabled persons’ organizations (DPOs), targeted this problem during a voter registration and electoral access project in Armenia and used an informational campaign through Public Service Announcements (PSAs) to raise awareness of the rights of and enfranchise people with disabilities. The program made the 2006 and 2008 parliamentary and presidential elections the most accessible in Armenian history.
The project served to build cooperation between the DPO coalition and the Central Electoral Commission (CEC), a partnership that was sustainable as a result of ongoing projects among the DPO coalition and CEC. Since the beginning, the project exposed barriers encountered by voters with disabilities. As a result, the CEC actively supported new legislation allowing the use of tactile ballot guides for blind voters and supported the construction of ramps not only at polling stations but at CEC headquarters in Yerevan.
PSAs and Media Coverage
The initiative achieved high visibility through Public Service Announcements (PSAs) and local media coverage, as well as endorsements by high-ranking politicians. PSAs were created both for radio and for television. Sign language interpretation was provided for people who were deaf or hard-of-hearing for all IFES-supported televised announcements.
Voter Registration Hotline Number
DPO members of PAROS ran a hotline phone number to assist voters with disabilities in confirming their voter registration and polling station locations. Importantly, as a result of PAROS advocacy efforts, the CEC decided to allow voters with disabilities to request a transfer from their assigned polling station to one that was accessible. The new program was a major step forward in improving opportunities for voters with disabilities to participate fully in public life.
Targeted Voter Education Campaign
IFES provided support to enhance the voter informational campaigns of the CEC and the Office of Visas and Registration (OVIR). For the first time, most official announcements included the universal image representing disability and information regarding related services. Voters reading the announcements recognized the symbol, which served as confirmation that services would be accessible.
Tactile Ballot Guides
One crucial aspect of the project was the introduction of tactile ballot guides (TBGs) that allow voters who are blind or who have low vision to vote independently. IFES produced these guides and engaged in an extensive voter information and training campaign in advance of the 2007 parliamentary elections. The CEC fully institutionalized TBGs for the next presidential election and was prepared to produce and distribute them without international assistance.
The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) supports better access and inclusion practices for persons with disabilities and is a partner of the RightsNow! consoritum. IFES also developed electionaccess.org, a unique resource that provides information on political participation for persons with disabilities around the world.