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International Development Needs Workers with Disabilities

June 21, 2016

By Elizabeth Heideman

Woman with shoulder length blond hair

Elizabeth Heideman



Before I came to D.C., I already knew the facts: that there are over 1 billion people with disabilities in the world and that 80% of them live in developing countries. I knew that people with disabilities are the poorest of the poor and living on the fringes of society, out of sight and out of mind—even to the people trying to make the world a more equitable place. Indeed, traditional development efforts and the UN’s Millennium Development Goals of the 2000s may have actually marginalized disabled people further due to their complete lack of inclusion according to some experts.

I knew that the development world needed people with disabilities in the field, but I couldn’t have imagined just how much until this summer.

Since the first day of orientation for this year’s USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship, I’ve seen development and human rights practitioners from a variety of organizations have their eyes opened to what it truly means to practice inclusive development. After their PowerPoint presentations and their pre-prepared talking points, I’ve seen them look up and into the faces of my fellow interns and I and realize that this is what their work is truly about—ensuring that young people around the world with disabilities like us can have the opportunity to get an education, get jobs and maybe even join in the fight themselves for a better future for all.

Some organizations who presented at orientation—in fact, most of them—admitted that they were still learning how to include people with disabilities. And that’s okay. USICD gave us the chance to create an interactive dialogue with the speakers, discussing things like the realities of field work for development practitioners with disabilities, website accessibility (or lack thereof) and what it really means to have an inclusive hiring strategy.

Starting my first week of work, I encountered some small access issues in the office. My host organization resolved them quickly and graciously, but more importantly, my access needs were able to demonstrate the real, human side of inclusive development and that “leaving no one behind” includes taking that first step of hiring qualified disabled professionals right here in D.C.

Since arriving here, I, as an intern, have learned a lot. But I think the development professionals we’ve interacted with have too, and that can only help us on this ever-evolving journey of sustainable, inclusive development for all.

Elizabeth Heideman is one of the participants in the 2016 USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program.  She and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program, to be posted at this blog.  USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area.  Elizabeth Heideman is completing her internship at the National Democratic Institute (NDI).  Learn more about USICD’s internship program at  Read the biographies of our interns in the summer 2016 program.  The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD or NDI.

Optimistic for Future Opportunities

June 15, 2016

By Vivian Fridas

Vivian Fridas headshot 2016

Vivian Fridas with service dog, Ditto

This summer, I have returned to Washington DC to act as an intern at USICD’s office as well as the mentor for the interns in USICD’s Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs program. As an alumni of this internship program from two years, I am happy to be back and have another great experience.


Coming back, I did have a few concerns. First, I wondered if I could be and effective mentor for the new group of interns. After all, I was returning as just an intern. I was not coming back as an alumni with a full-time job. I was a little nervous the new group of cohorts would take one look at me and immediately conclude that I was not a success and had nothing of value to offer. Within a few minutes of spending time with the three ladies, I knew that they were not thinking anything of the sort and really thought my experience could be useful. Second, I feared that this opportunity would be another internship in a long list that would not lead to anything permanent. It feels like I am doomed to play the role of the eternal intern. It is very easy to get discouraged with the job hunting process. I have learned that seizing opportunities and taking full advantage of what they have to offer can lead to other paths and possibilities. This summer, I plan on leading by example and using every resource at my disposal in order to achieve my ultimate goal of attaining employment.

This leads me into my next concern. As individuals with disabilities, we all know that it is harder to find and attain steady employment. There are extra barriers and obstacles we have to overcome. These hurdles may differ with each disability, but they nevertheless impact our efforts. Something that became increasingly apparent during our orientation week deals with how effective employers are at hiring people with disabilities. This is not to say that there is not great enthusiasm on the part of an employer to hire more diverse staff that include people with disabilities, but it seems as though many do not know how to achieve this goal. Furthermore, there may be a big outreach effort on the part of the organization, but when it comes to applying for a position a person with a disability may find that the organization’s website is not accessible. This is a problem. How can we bridge this gap? How can we bring employers seeking to hire qualified candidates together with people with disabilities who meet the required qualifications and are interested in employment?

Programs like USICD’s Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program are excellent examples of promoting the hiring of young people with disabilities in international development. This program is highly selective and our candidates have extraordinary backgrounds and experience. By matching them with an organization similar to their passion and interests, a great relationship can begin with positive outcomes. This will leave the organization a desire to reach out and hire more people with disabilities in the future. I think it is our responsibility as advocates to continue educating the public about people with disabilities. I also feel that more needs to be done in order to ensure people with disabilities get a fair shot in all aspects of life. More opportunities for employment of people with disabilities can be a great start to bridging the inequality gap. I hope that I will get the chance to take on projects relating to disability rights and inclusion both domestically and internationally.

Vivian Fridas is one of the participants in the 2016 USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program.  She and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program, to be posted at this blog.  USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area.  Vivian Fridas is completing her internship at USICD.  Learn more about the internship program at  Read Vivian Fridas, and the biographies of other interns in the summer 2016 program.  The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD.

A New Year’s Message to USICD Members for 2016

January 7, 2016
Woman with short, blond hair wearing a white blouse, pearl necklace, and black suit jacket smiles at camera

Patricia Morrissey

Happy New Year! I’m really excited about 2016. On the political side, I know none of us will be bored – President Obama will be focusing on his legacy. Paul Ryan, the new Speaker of the House of Representatives, will be showing how bipartisanship will fare under his leadership. And then of course, we have the Presidential race.

The U.S. International Council on Disabilities (USICD) has a lot to do and is looking forward to your being part of that vision. I want to focus on securing our operational future, expanding our partnership base, and attracting new members to our organization. We have a very dynamic board and high-energy staff. Here’s hoping that you will follow what we do, help us when you can, and ask your friends to join USICD as members.  Let me give you a few updates that I hope you will share with others about USICD’s work.

USICD’s mission is to promote the rights and full participation of persons with disabilities through global engagement and United States foreign affairs. We are doing this in Myanmar, where we are assisting in the development of the Myanmar Council of Persons with Disabilities.  We are doing this in the Caribbean, where we are getting to know our neighboring DPOs better and seeking ways for more meaningful collaboration.  We are doing this in Africa and Asia, where 60 DPOs are hosting the Global Disability Rights Library.  And we are doing this in Kenya, Mexico and Vietnam, and Armenia as part of the RightsNow! Consortium with USICD members Mobility International USA and the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund.

USICD’s internship program funded by Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation will continue in 2016. We successfully have placed 21 interns with 16 international organizations and federal agencies such as the U.S. State Department, Human Rights Watch, World Learning, Handicap International, and the Inter-American Development Bank and others over the last three years.  We are currently accepting applications for our fourth summer in DC: the deadline to apply is January 12, 2016, and interns will be expected to be in DC from about May 29 to July 30, 2016.

I am particularly excited about USICD’s new partnership with the U.S. Business Leadership Network (USBLN) to conduct a roundtable on including people with disabilities in international business in the workforce and in the marketplace.  Great U.S. companies are embracing the global expansion of disability rights, and they have experience to share and much to gain.  USICD is honored to help USBLN serve them and the global vision for access, inclusion and equality!

Now a few comments on my priorities.  How people with disabilities are treated in a country is a solid measure for judging a country’s approach to human rights generally. If a person with the disability has the same opportunities to attend school with peers, to participate in community life with others, to have a job, to live where and with whom he or she chooses, and to have access to health care, chances are the human rights record of a country is on solid footing. If we visit a country and we see people with disabilities everywhere doing things with others, we can conclude that things on the disability rights side are in order. On the flipside, if we don’t see people with disabilities everywhere doing things with others, we know there’s work to be done. Everyone in the U.S. has the opportunity to play a direct or indirect role in places where work needs to be done.

Spend some time thinking about what you would like to do and share it with us. The October 2015 meeting of the membership by teleconference was such a hit with you, our members, that USICD has decided to do this twice a year, creating a real-time opportunity for knowledge sharing, advising, discussing and collaborating.  Please mark on your calendar to join our next full membership teleconference on April 27, 2016 from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Additionally, the USICD Board of Directors’ Resource Development Committee welcomes the committed participation of USICD members not on the board. Interested members should contact David Morrissey at

Partnerships are the smart way to get things going, to get things done. Are you with another organization? Does this organization have an interest in international activities? Connect this organization with us and let us explore options for partnerships.

Finally, in addition to helping USICD pursue initiatives and build partnerships, you can help us with our recruitment of new members. Tell your friends about us; tell them about our transformative approach to membership. We can do so much more if we are willing to work together. My priorities depend on YOU. If you want to not only be a member of USICD, but also a force in shaping its reach to people with disabilities around the world, please contact us at

Thank you.

Patricia Morrissey

Callie Frye’s Guide to International Development Careers

October 14, 2015
Woman with long, thin hair twists smiles at camera

Callie Frye

By Callie Frye:

Growing up, I always felt this need to service people in need globally. It has always been a passion of mine to save lives, alleviate suffering, and maintain human dignity in other countries compromised by humanitarian crises. I have learned about the nonprofit sector in depth in my graduate courses at DePaul University, but I gained so much practical experiences from my internship with Handicap International U.S. (HIUS) made possible by the Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program coordinated by the United States International Council on Disabilities (USICD). If not for HIUS and USICD, I would not have learned how the nonprofit organization works programmatically and financially. I finally understood how the concept works in regards to grants management portfolio, meeting federal donors’ requirements, revising concept notes, and finalizing programmatic and financial reports from field reports. From those experiences, I have gained knowledge and confidence because I had hands on experiences. Most importantly, they have broadened my interests from refugee issues to disability inclusion. This means when providing humanitarian aid, we must also pay attention to most vulnerable groups like women and girls with disabilities, LGBTQ with disabilities, indigenous people with disabilities, and especially refugees with disabilities. Braced with rich, practical experiences from interning for HIUS and USICD, I want to share the toolkit with all of you who may be interested in a diverse sector of international development.

This toolkit is designed to guide you to the broad and expanding field of international development. With the increased public consciousness, the need for skills in this emerging area of international development is vast and encompasses a broad range of opportunities. In developing and post-conflict countries especially, there is a widespread lack of capacity and expertise in economic and social development. Knowing that development is practiced both internationally and domestically, I focus in this toolkit on international development.

International development is not easy to define because it is a complex subject that integrates change involving interrelated economic, legal, social, cultural, political, and environmental dimensions. It also encompasses a broad range of disciplines and endeavors to improve the quality of people around the world. Both economic and social development are deeply rooted in the field of international development as well as many issues such as humanitarian and foreign aid, poverty alleviation, the rule of law and governance, food and water security, capacity building, healthcare and education, women and children’s rights, disaster preparedness, infrastructure, and sustainability. In the recent years, the widespread international law enactment of infrastructure reforms in developing countries and emerging economies has resulted in the establishment of new regulatory regimes, institutions, contracts, policies and practices that have changed the landscape of international development dramatically.

To prepare yourself for the extraordinary range of possibilities in the practice of international development, this toolkit provides an overview of the organizations and opportunities that may interest you both during and after studies. First of all, one must develop an understanding of the different types of international development settings and practices, as well as general advice on entry into an international development career including personal assessment, the role of Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs), Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs), and government agencies, and how to build a career after entry into the field.

A personal assessment is critical before commencing upon a career in international development. It gives a powerful tool to analyze your motivations, expectations, and the challenges involved in a career in international development. Begin with what attracts you to international development, what issues are you most passionate about, which regions of the world appeal to you the most, preferences of work settings, and the abilities to handle the lack of available comforts if working abroad such as clean water, primal food, physical environment, and lack of access to world news and events. Once narrowing down and discovering your specific areas of interests, you will be able to know which organizations you will be interested in working for.

The role of the NGO in international development requires a much deeper understanding of local and community-based groups to effectively assist the poor and marginalized populations. NGOs also play a significant role in lobbying for the rights of certain sectors including advocacy for the rights of women, children, and people with disabilities. Many NGOs are now shifting from their traditional confrontation role to more collaborative interactions with business and government. For the competitiveness of employment in the NGO world, there are endless opportunities available for motivated, passionate candidates to work in development-focused organizations and to contribute in meaningful ways to global development. The most common advice for people looking for careers in the world of NGOs is that salary should not be one of motivators.

Intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) are international, supranational organizations that have only states as members. IGOs can be single-issue or multi-issue organizations as well as regional or global in their scope. The main purposes of IGOs were to create a mechanism for the world’s inhabitants to work more successfully together in the areas of concerns. In the increased need for globalization and interdependence of nations, IGOs have come to play a very significant role in international political systems and global governance. Getting a job at IGOs or the UN takes a whole lot of networking, persistence, and creativity with some luck. It is often when you are at the right place and know the right people at the right time.

Government agencies around the world, perhaps more than any other sectors, drive public policy and set the frameworks for international development. The priorities and agenda in international development vary among government agencies depending on their political culture. For example, progressive regimes tend to call for the full inclusion on their agenda in foreign aid such as girls, women, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ. Working abroad for your government agency, you need to constantly familiarize yourself with world news and able to represent your country well by tackling these issues yourself.

While you can earn very well working at IGOs and government agencies, do not sway away from NGOs completely due to low salary because the job itself is rewarding enough. All you need is experience, experience, and experience hence working at NGOs will serve you well when applying IGOs and government agencies. However, a few points to keep in mind, entry-level programs at IGOs and government agencies in the US are highly competitive and many require a minimum of year prior experience and often have age limits. Also, application processes can be very lengthy – it can take up to a year, sometimes much longer. In conclusion, I recommend you to not focus a job search solely on IGOs and government agencies. Be sure to pursue along with other options. Good luck!

Callie Frye is one of the participants in the 2015 USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program.  She and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program, to be posted at this blog.  USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area.  Callie Frye is completing her internship at Handicap International.  Learn more about the internship program at  Read Callie Frye, and the biographies of other interns.  The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD or Handicap International.

Presidential Opening Remarks at USICD’s 2015 Annual Meeting

October 12, 2015
Woman with short, blond hair wearing a white blouse, pearl necklace, and black suit jacket smiles at camera

Patricia Morrissey

Dr. Patricia Morrissey, President of USICD’s Board of Directors, delivered the following remarks at the start of USICD’s 2015 annual meeting on October 8.  This year, for the first time, USICD’s annual meeting was held entirely by teleconference phone line.

Thank you so much for joining us by phone today. As I understand it, there are at least 50 people on this call. We know your time is valuable and we appreciate the fact that you’re willing to spend a substantial part of your afternoon with us.

When thinking about my opening remarks I was inspired by three things: Pope Francis’ recent visit to the US, the concept of GPS applied to personal actions, and our potential role in the current presidential election cycle.

When Pope Francis came to our hemisphere he emphasized the importance of helping those in need. By focusing on others he felt we would experience both satisfaction and joy. I agree with him. The challenge for us is how to do it. We are drawn together by our interest in disability rights and the role the US can play in the international arena.

This is where the GPS analogy comes in. It offers us multiple ways to target our personal actions. First, on a global scale, through international organizations, we can make contributions to and learn from how things are done in other countries. Second, nationally, we can identify things going well in this country and promote them both here and abroad. Third, in our own state and communities, we can help people do things in a smarter way so that people with disabilities benefit and are fully included. Fourth, through personal relationships, we can help one individual or family that is struggling, by offering advice and support on an ongoing basis, so that their challenges become opportunities. And last, we can take care of ourselves, so that we have the strength and energy to help others.

What does zooming in or out like a GPS system have to do with the presidential cycle? The actions we choose to take between now and Election Day will influence the outcome. We could wait until the dust settles and then became involved with a specific presidential candidate. That is, at the point in time when there was one Democrat candidate and one Republican candidate for president. But, we have more chances to affect the final candidates and their priorities if we join the policy discussion now and work to see that issues that are important to people with disabilities are talked about earlier in the process of selecting final presidential candidates. At this point in the process we as a community should be sharing what matters to us with all candidates – – employment barriers, educational challenges, transportation limitations, the lack of accessible housing options and healthcare – – all things related to the independence of people with disabilities. Elevating these things, discussing them, and exploring their resolution have tremendous value here and around the world.

Of course all these things that I have mentioned could/should be undertaken by each of us as an individual. But, our power and reach are expanded exponentially when we do things with others for others. We have the power to make a difference — at home and abroad, being guided by the simple principle of treating others as we wish to be treated and working together. 

USICD’s principal purpose is connecting the US disability community with the wider world.  This is such an exciting time for people with disabilities globally, but there is much to be done, and we have to make sure the United States is actively involved.  The world looks to us and networks of people with disabilities look to us.  USICD is placing a lot of emphasis on building our relationships with disability groups overseas.  We want to increasingly include our members in this as we move forward, so I hope today’s discussion sparks your interest and ideas for strengthening our partnerships with our friends overseas.

Now to our plan for today. We will share with you what we have been focusing on in the past year, our plans for the coming year, and the status our financial picture. We have plans that, with your support and help, will allow our organization to grow in visibility and continue to demonstrate our leadership.

In closing, I would like to thank David Morrissey for his tireless efforts to keep us on track and to explore new opportunities; to thank our energetic interns for doing any and everything we ask them to do; to thank Andrea Shettle for running our internship program and taking on new assignments with enthusiasm; to welcome Isabel Hodge on board as our new Deputy Director; and with great appreciation, to acknowledge and greet our new board members.

Thank you.

Media Engagement Tips for Disability Advocates

August 18, 2015
Black woman dressed in black with sunglasses walks outside

Justice Shorter

By Justice Shorter

As a graduate student with a concentration in Policy Advocacy and a background in communication, I have spent much of my spare time exploring every exposed or hidden corner of advocacy communications. My work this summer with Women Enabled International encouraged me to further examine media representations of women and girls with disabilities. Unfortunately, women and girls with disabilities are rarely included in on-air programs especially those with topics/themes unrelated to disability issues. As a result of this disparity in diversity, there are countless disability inclusion guides and resources available for media makers to consider when designing and implementing programs or feature films. Yet we still remain largely absent, stereotyped or stigmatized on both big and small screens.

Inspired by this injustice, I decided to create a quick tips sheet for women and girls with disabilities to consider when engaging with media makers in an effort to strengthen disability advocacy, shatter stereotypes, dispel myths and become full participants in media opportunities. The tips are best used as an advocacy tool when tailored to meet the specific advocacy goals and objectives of the individuals applying them. This sheet is not meant to serve as an exhaustive account of all media relations considerations but rather as a living document that will grow over time with contributions from shared experiences and further compilations of best practices.

If you wish to share your disability advocacy communications ideas, experiences or suggestions please contact Justice Shorter at .

Interview Preparation

  • Inform the interviewer and their team in advance of what accommodations you will need before, during and after the interview.
  • Advocate that your disability not be hidden or downplayed while on camera
  • Acknowledge beforehand whether or not you are comfortable discussing your disability on air. Often, interviewers will ask questions associated with your disability even when it has no recognizable relevance to the topic being discussed.
  • If you would like to openly discuss your disability strive to ensure that it does not become the central focus of the interview when the topic of discussion is not disability related. To assist with this, create a mental list of talking points and transitions that will allow you to easily flow from one topic to the next.
  • Highlight wider trends. People with disabilities are frequently portrayed as inspirational or superhuman in mainstream media. To combat these misconceptions and other stereotypes link your experiences to other examples of people with disabilities leading similar lives or making comparable contributions within you’re field/the topic being discussed. This technique signifies that people with disabilities who accomplish their goals or who succeed professionally are the new rule rather than just merely a rare exception to be idealized. This may require some research on your part but is well worth the effort if you can recognize and reinforce disability examples that disprove or disassemble negative media myths and misconceptions.


If your disability affects the amount of time you may need to think about or respond to questions:

  • Alert the interviewers and their team in advance to ensure that they have reserved enough time in their schedules for you to fully and comfortably participate in the interview.
  • During prerecorded interviews it might be helpful to check in with the interviewer throughout the conversation to confirm he/she accurately comprehends your message/responses.
  • Check the position and quality of the mic by doing a quick sound check to hear how your voice will sound to the audience. This can help you decide to speak more softly, loudly, energetically, calmly, assertively etc.
  • Beware of the Filter: Often, interviewers will paraphrase your comments or automatically assume you think or feel a certain way. This happens far too frequently during stories featuring individuals with disabilities. Although the technique may be used with the intention of preserving time, summarizing a lengthy statement or clarifying complicated comments, it can also entirely miss or misrepresent your message. To avoid this, try speaking in clear, concise and complete sentences. Pause before speaking to mentally review your responses and tactfully redirect interviewers when they’re wrong about your stance or previous statements.

Location & Equipment

  • Inquire about the place or space where the interview is to be held. Ensure that the location is accessible.
  • If you will be reading new material or using special equipment during a program, check with the interviewer and their team to discuss potential modifications or alternative options if needed.
  • If possible, take an advance tour of the location where the interview is to be held or ask for time to familiarize yourself with new equipment/devices you may need to use.
  • Sometimes, individuals without disabilities won’t know what aspects of accessibility to check for so it may prove helpful to provide more specific accessibility details related to your particular disability.


  • If you are blind or visually impaired:
  • Inquire about what type of visuals will be used to accompany the piece or program.
  • Offer suggestions for pictures or footage to be taken in areas where you have some familiarity
  • When being photographed in a group ask to be informed of who is in the frame as to not be caught off guard in a picture with individuals you don’t wish to be associated with.

Interpreters & Assistants

  • Inquire beforehand as to whether or not you’re interpreter or assistant is comfortable being on camera.
  • Advocate that the interviewer direct all questions toward you and not to the interpreter or assistant. The cameraperson should also be encouraged to focus on capturing images of your responses and interaction with the interviewer as opposed to those of the interpreter/assistant.

Access to Content

  • Inquire about content accessibility before and after the interview
  • Offer suggestions and resources on how the content can be made more accessible for people with disabilities. This may entail you connecting the program’s staff with individuals who are more adept to designing or adapting accessible technology.

Justice Shorter is one of the participants in the 2015 USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program.  She and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program, to be posted at this blog.  USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area.  Justice Shorter is completing her internship at Women Enabled International.  Learn more about the internship program at  Read Justice Shorter’s, and the biographies of other interns in the summer 2015 program, at  The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD or Women Enabled International.

Inclusion in Electoral Systems

August 10, 2015

By Lisa Guerra

Lisa Guerra, with short brown hair wearing a sleeveless dark blue blouse, smiles at camera

Lisa Guerra

Every human being has a right to vote.

We live in a world where voting, in general, is viewed as privilege, not a fundamental right.

Why a privilege? Governments (whether democratic or constitutional monarchies) pick and choose who can and cannot exercise their civic duties for various reasons. Some excluded populations are stripped of their right to vote because of their roles in society–roles that are viewed as “inactive,” “not contributing,” and/or “incapable.”

Since my internship started with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) nearly two months ago, I immersed myself into the subject of political participation and people with disabilities on the international level. People with disabilities face oppression in the electoral process in many ways. While this blog post will discuss about the general population of the disability community, it is important to note that there are people who also face double or multiple oppressions due to their gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and others. For example, women with disabilities have lower percentage of vote turnout compared to men with disabilities.

A tiny number of countries have eliminated discrimination in the electoral process against people with disabilities in their constitutions and laws. Within these few countries, an even smaller number of countries provide inclusive programs focusing on accessibility and anti-discrimination regulations for their citizens with disabilities.

Why are people with disabilities still unable to vote in most areas of the world? Or otherwise disenfranchised of their right to vote?

Ignorance and outdated legalese on binding documents are the usual factors. Disability is associated with stigma and this leads many to hold the outdated belief of people with disabilities as “second-class” citizens who are incapable of contributing to their society and unable to have  active roles in any aspect of life.

Legal limitations in the electoral process is one of many barriers faced by the disability community. In many cases, a person with intellectual disabilities is usually automatically excluded just because the constitution declared their disability causes incompetency to make a decision. If a person is under guardianship, they are excluded as well because their competency is questioned. There are laws that are construed to exclude people who are homeless from voting and many have psychosocial or other disabilities.

Even if people with disabilities have no legal limitations to vote, they still face barriers. Accessibility standards in the polling stations and ballots, and the right to secrecy, are still poorly enforced in many areas of the world due to insufficient training and lack of understanding of rights on the part of electoral officers. In some countries, an electoral official has the right to challenge and/or prevent a voter from participating, due to their own observation if they believe the voter is incompetent. This is blatant discrimination–but what is worse is this that is often legal as well. Also, people who are blind need accessible ballots, but they could be turned away due to inaccessible polling stations. Voters who use wheelchairs cannot access the facilities because there are no ramps. The problem is that there is still a great need for funds and serious commitments to provide quality accessibility trainings for electoral officers and for the implementation and enforcement of anti-discrimination laws.

With or without disabilities, citizens have the right to vote without any limitations. A fundamental right should not be taken away because that person is born with (or acquires) an identity associated with traditional stigma. Ableism is a harmful tool of oppression that many uses to exclude disability from participating in political life. The disability community lacks direct political power (not many enter high-functioning positions in politics) and this causes intentional (or unintentional) oppression from the majority to continue. How are we going to create a better inclusive society for the disability community if we don’t include them in every single aspect of life?

It is time for us to change our thinking and actions and give our peers their rights.

Lisa Guerra is one of the participants in the 2015 USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program.  She and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program, to be posted at this blog.  USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area.  Lisa Guerra  completed her USICD program internship at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).  Learn more about USICD’s internship program at  Read Lisa Guerra’s, and the biographies of other interns in the summer 2015 program, at  The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD or IFES.