Luis Venialbo reading braille

I finally exercised my constitutional right for a secret vote

My name is Luis Venialbo. I am 65 years old and 35 years ago I completely lost my vision when a retinitis pigmentosa was manifested in my eyes. This changed my life in Paraguay drastically, but this was not an obstacle and I decided to become a teacher for blind students. Later in my life, I graduated as a lawyer and became a leader in the disability sector. This was possible thanks to reasonable adjustments, perseverance in the face of difficulties and the support of my family, mainly that of my wife whose eyes complemented my tenacity.

Notwithstanding a wonderful relationship based of respect and love, we very often have different opinions, particularly when it comes to politics. Due to the lack of accessibility to exercise my right to vote without assistance, I always depended on her support to mark and cast the ballot. But even trusting my wife I always asked myself “will she have marked the candidate I chose?” I never had the certainty that my vote was for my preferred candidate.

In 2015, thanks to reforms implemented under the assistance of the Inclusive Elections Project, I was able to use braille ballots for the first time. I finally exercised my constitutional right for a secret vote, with the certainty of having voted for the candidate of my preference. This experience was replicated in the general elections of 2018.

Find out more about the Inclusive Elections Project in Paraguay by reading the factsheet.

Philippa-Anne Dewhirst sitting in front of a lake with trees in the background

“Now I have a way to explain what most people see as unsettling or bad.”

At the age of 24, I sustained a traumatic brain injury in a car crash. This left my memory severely impaired and resulted in co-ordination difficulties when tired as well as aphasia – which is a communication disorder. In January 2018, I was helping my sister with my 13-year-old nephew. He has ADHD and ODD and can get out of control and become extremely strong and difficult to manage.

On this day he tried to attack both me and my sister. This led to me safely pinning him to the floor until he calmed down. Once he appeared settled we thought the episode was over, but he phoned his social worker and accused me of trying to harm him. The police arrived and explained that I would have to give a statement.

I contacted the number on my Headway ID card and spoke to a solicitor about what had happened, and he offered to attend the police station with me. I also presented my ID card to the police officers so they understood that I might struggle to answer their questions and so they would be prepared to give me time to find the right words. They investigated and found no evidence of any form of wrong doing, and I was cleared of the charge against me.

It makes me feel secure knowing that thanks to the Headway ID card I have a way to explain what most people see as unsettling, bad, or bizarre behaviour.

You can read more about the Headway Brain Injury ID Card in their factsheet.

 

“Volunteering can be a great experience, especially for people with a physical disability.”

My name is Erwin Buchberger and I am a wheelchair user. I need personal assistance for my daily life. I enjoy travelling and I am always looking for new adventures. As soon as I heard about the possibility to volunteer abroad, I wanted to do it.

With WeltWegWeiser we found an ideal project, working in an integrative school in Latvia, where some pupils are disabled. I especially enjoyed looking after the children and coming up with ideas for after-school activities. These pupils didn’t speak much English. Instead, we used creativity and our hands communicating from heart to heart.

You have to cope with life in an unfamiliar environment. And I succeeded, which was great for my self-confidence. It also changed the way I see the world.

After returning home, I was invited to promote inclusive voluntary services on behalf of WeltWegWeiser. Volunteering can be a great experience, especially for people with a physical disability, who often have to fight to be included in society. Getting involved in social projects abroad is a chance to show that you can give something back and change society’s perception of people with disabilities.

Read the WeltWegWeiser factsheet to find out more about their inclusive international volunteering programme.

Zero Project Logo

“Even simple things like how to lace my shoes make a big difference to me.”

My name is Sadek and I am a 23-year-old university student studying accounting. Since I started the ETI programme I have learned many things, and the programme has helped me to gain more independence and self-confidence. I am very motivated by the programme, especially by the music classes and the social literacy. I’ve learned how to interact more with others and how to communicate better. Even such simple things as how to lace my shoes has made a difference in my life.

I am grateful for the ETI staff, who are providing all of these experiences, including the chance to meet new people and to make new friends. For me, they represent a family working together for the same goal – to promote the social integration of young people and children with disabilities.

Read the ETI factsheet to find out more about the programme.

Photo of Dana, a beneficiary of the Bizchut programme

“I was the first person with a disability in Israel to have my guardian removed.”

My name is Dana, and I am a 42-year-old resident of Haifa who was born with cerebral palsy. After my parents died I lived by myself, during which time I spent too much money and got into financial trouble. As a result, my brother was appointed my guardian, and then I was transferred to a large guardianship agency that had full control over all my finances.

I wanted to take the university entrance exams, to get a dog, to learn to drive. My guardian said no to all of these things because it was “a waste of money.” Then I met Yotam from Bizchut, who agreed to help me replace my guardian with someone who would let me make decisions on my own and would give me the support I really need. That’s when we found Yehuda, an accountant. The court cancelled my guardian and appointed Yehuda instead. Now I talk to him before I make decisions about money. We have made a financial plan, and I even have a savings account. What’s more, I have taken the university entrance exams, I now have a dog, and I am going to start learning to drive!

Life is completely different without others making decisions for me. I am proud to be the first person with a disability in Israel to have my guardian removed and to be given a decision-making supporter.

You can read more about the Bizchut programme in this factsheet.

“I started writing reviews on my blog of the movies I saw using the GRETA app.”

My name is Barbara, and I am a 59-year-old advocate of accessible cinema in Germany. I was born with a 7 per cent sight capacity, which is now just 2 per cent. Growing up, I would go to the movies regularly. What I love about the cinema is how much fun it is to sit in a dark hall focused on what is happening on the screen, laughing with the other moviegoers and being carried away by the sounds. I love all sorts of movies: art-house independent films, blockbusters, comedies. Funny scenes, moving stories, and beautiful dialogue are what I enjoy most.

Since using the GRETA app, going to the movies is now 100 per cent more fun! I am fully autonomous, meaning I can easily understand everything happening on the screen with my smartphone. I just check which movies have been added to the GRETA platform, download the free audio description of the film I want to see, and go to any cinema that is showing it. It is as simple as it sounds!

Being fully included in the cinema world has been life-changing. I have started writing reviews on my blog of the movies I have seen, and I have become a strong advocate for accessible cinema through the organization that I founded, Kinoblindgänger (“blind moviegoer”).

Read the GRETA factsheet to find out more about the app.

Photo of John Clarke in a blue Enable Scotland T-Shirt

“As part of #ENABLEtheVote, I went to Westminster and spoke in front of Members of Parliament!”

ACE is an Active Community of Empowered People who have learning disabilities, and we meet in communities across Scotland every month. Through ACE I took part in #ENABLEtheVote.

We started #ENABLEtheVote because many ACE members had never voted before and this was something we wanted to change. Our voices matter and they should be heard in local and national elections.

Before #ENABLEtheVote I had voted in an election, but when I did I would just glance at the paper and mark any of them. I never really understood that each choice offered something different, or that my vote would actually have an impact. Noone had ever talked to me about voting before. But all that has changed.

As part of #ENABLEtheVote, I went to Westminster and spoke in front of Members of Parliament. I told them that I have a learning disability and that nonetheless I can make a difference. I can say what needs to be said and make things change. They listened, and they took me seriously. They even asked if they could use my speech as evidence in a debate the next day.

Everybody in society has needs, and it is important that everyone’s needs are met. Life with a learning disability isn’t easy, but with the help of organizations like ENABLE Scotland, people like me can make things better.

You can read more about #ENABLEtheVote in their factsheet.

Jovan Slavnić working in the bakery preparing dough on a tray

“I am free and happy here. I would never return to an institution!”

My name is Jovan Slavnić. I am 35 years old and I have lived in a small home community in Novi Sad, Serbia, since 2009. Before I came to Novi Sad I lived in a few institutions, where I ran away several times because everything there was terrible. For example, I was not allowed to spend time with people outside the institution. Every day was the same. I had nothing to do and nothing of my own. When I met Dragica, I fell in love and stopped running away. Instead, I dreamed that I would somehow get out of the institution, go to school, find a job, and marry Dragica. Thanks to the community living programme supported by Milan Petrovic, we are now living together in an apartment with two friends.

As soon as I left the institution, I started going to school. In June 2018, I became a baker and got a job in a bakery. I go to work by bus. I love to spend my free time playing with my dog and having fun with my friends. I also enjoy watching football matches at a nearby coffee shop, because I can cheer loudly.  When I receive my salary, I take out Dragica and my friends to eat cakes.

Read more about the Supported Living in the Community project in their factsheet.

Maria Ivașcu, sitting in a wheelchair in a rehearsal room, extends her hands to join them with a young man, who also has his hands extended

“Since I began acting, I have learned that I don’t have to be afraid anymore.”

Fear. Fear kept me home. Fear wouldn’t let me talk to people. Fear prevents many people with disabilities from participating in society.

I am Maria Ivașcu and I am 20 years old. I am in the Alternativ theatre troupe and I support other people with disabilities to overcome fear and integrate into society. I always dreamt that one day I would perform, but never imagined that I would fulfill my dream. I never imagined that I would speak to so many people and explain that I can do the same things they can. I don’t have to stay home just because I use a wheelchair. Since I began acting, I have learned that I don’t have to be afraid anymore. I am a person and I have equal rights.

My life has changed, and the lives of people with disabilities in the communities where we perform have changed as well. Our performances are designed to stop and prevent discrimination against people with disabilities in schools and kindergartens. We show audiences the reality of the situation in their community. We then invite spectators to the stage and they offer solutions to help stop discrimination. Audiences learn that they don’t have to avoid people with disabilities, because we are all the same. We can all learn from each other.

For more information, read the Forum Theatre factsheet.

Risnawati Utami, smiling, posts her ballot into a ballot box

“Based on our observations, we made recommendations to the government, many of which have been adopted.”

I am Risnawati Utami, from Indonesia. I am 45 years old and have had a physical disability since I was four.

In 1999, Indonesia experienced its first election after Suharto, who served as president for 31 years, stepped down. To ensure the participation of persons with disabilities in the election process, I decided to be an observer in my hometown of Solo, in Central Java. As a result, I found that persons with disabilities who lived in rehabilitation centres were not registered to vote. However, at that time I did not use any standardized tools to observe the election.

When I served as an observer in the presidential election of 2014, it was much more accessible and organized than in 1999. This time I worked with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, and together we developed a comprehensive tool to assess the accessibility of elections. This included recruiting 150 people with disabilities to serve as observers. Based on these observations, we made recommendations to the government on how to make the elections more accessible, many of which have been adopted.

In 2018, I was elected to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Committee. One of my commitments as a new member of the committee is to develop a General Comment on Article 29, which sets out the framework for the participation of persons with disabilities in political life. Of course, to draft the comment I plan to use my personal experience serving as an election observer.

Read more about the IFES Election Access Observation Toolkit in their factsheet.