The campaign was launched Wednesday by the Electoral Council, the Disability Council and the Federation of Taxi Drivers. It gives citizens the option of voting from home, skipping lines at the voting center and assistance for those requiring help with the voting process.
The Taxi Federation will give free rides to and from voting centers, TeleSUR reported, and 30,000 police officers will be standing by to ensure a safe voting process for those with disabilities.
According to Xavier Torres, president of the National Council for Equality of Disabilities, 25 Ecuadorians participated in the program when it began as an experiment in 2005, according to Prensa Latina. This year, 345,467 people with disabilities have registered to vote through the program.
“We have worked with the [Electoral Council] in different activities to promote political participation and reduce absenteeism in the next elections,” Torres told to Prensa Latina.
During the 2014 elections, a historic 75 percent of disabled voters stayed home. Backers hope the initiative will lower that rate.
Ecuadoreans will elect their new president on Feb. 19, and one of the candidates is disabled. Lenin Moreno served as President Rafael Correa’s vice president from 2007 to 2013, after which he was appointed by former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as Special Envoy on Disability and Accessibility.
Moreno, who has been in a wheelchair since he was shot in 1998, is credited with changing Ecuador’s old policies of exclusion for people with disabilities. He helped create a social program aimed at promoting disabled rights, providing for job placements as well as subsidies for relatives with care-giving duties.
“Before, people with disabilities were held in hiding, now they come out with their heads high in search of happiness and participating in the country’s development,” said Moreno, who has also fought to guarantee the right to decent housing.
Ecuador has emerged as a leader for disability rights in Latin America, where more than 50 million people – 10 percent of the region’s population – live with a form of disability. Regionally, some 82 percent of people with disabilities live in poverty, hindered by social and economic exclusion on top of dismally low rates of employment, quality education and health care.
The largest population of people with disabilities reside in Brazil, whose legal framework provides multiple protections for the rights of people with disabilities, including a law that criminalizes discrimination based on disability. But while there are some 9 million people of working age with special needs, only 1 million Brazilians with disabilities are in the labor force.
Disability rights activists say discrimination of people with disabilities is particularly acute in developing countries, and have long called for reforms including improved health and rehabilitation, accessible transportation and public spaces. Many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have already approved legislation to tackle such issues, but as the laws are relatively new, activists are still urging policymakers to improve enforcement and compliance.
According to Carine Clert, the World Bank’s Human Development Sector Leader for the Andean Countries, disability in Latin America is still often an invisible issue.
“Latin America is engaged in an important process of inclusion through which it is attempting to reduce inequality,” Clert said at an event with the Ecuadorian government in 2012. “In this context, focusing on people with disabilities is the new frontier.”