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.