Participation of Persons with Disabilities in Political Life. A Content Analysis of Recent Literature (1997–2019) - Núm. 61, Julio 2021 - Revista Estudios Políticos - Libros y Revistas - VLEX 870025255

Participation of Persons with Disabilities in Political Life. A Content Analysis of Recent Literature (1997–2019)

AutorAndrés Mauricio Guzmán Rincón - Adriana Caballero Pérez
CargoLawyer. LLM in Human Rights - Lawyer. M.A. in Sociology


The right to vote is widely recognized as a fundamental human right and essential to a well–functioning democracy (Fishkin, 2011). The universal, equal, free, and secret ballot principles form an integral part of the fundamental right of persons with disabilities to vote. These principles are codified in international human rights law: Article 21–Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25–International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and Article 29–UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD). As well as other instruments at the Inter–American Human Rights Level: Article 23–American Convention on Human Rights and Article III (a) Inter–American Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities.

Foundational instruments comprising the human rights legal framework establish the legal duty of Contracting States to take effective and positive measures to promote and ensure that persons with disabilities participate in elections on an equal basis with others. Nevertheless, the right to vote is not fully granted for all persons with disabilities. There remain significant gaps between what is detailed in law regulations and the barriers to political participation that continue to exist in practice. Colombia is not an exception to this fact (ONU, 2016).

Colombia is a State Party to all international and regional human rights instruments cited above.1 This means that Colombia is required to ensure the full and effective participation of persons with disabilities in political life. Compliance with the legal obligations established in international and regional human rights law by Colombia implies adopting inter alia legislative measures to achieve formal and substantive equality in the context of voting. Accordingly, this issue is of high relevance for the new National Electoral Code.2 It is expected that the new Colombian electoral legislation provides for achieving accessibility and dismantling barriers faced by voters with disabilities.

By means of a literature review, the present article comprises a non–exhaustive discussion on the issues of “political participation” of persons with disabilities, “barriers” faced by voters with disabilities within the context of voting, “electoral practices” taking place in the context of voting, and “electoral–assistive devices” to assist voters with disabilities. The objective of this article is to provide a framework within which to determine whether there is room for improvement for the national legislator and policy maker based on the main findings. It is worth mentioning that the questions raised in this article are pertinent to promoting changes within Colombian electoral legal, policy, and social contexts, as well as in other countries. The resulting overview of the existing literature on the issue of voting rights of persons with disabilities also provides insights into the areas where a knowledge gap exists, and thus where the present work can contribute.

The article is divided into four sections. Following this introduction, section two describes the research method to conduct the literature review. In section three, the article consists of review findings, this section addresses each one of the key topics concerning this work and discusses trends and knowledge gaps. Lastly, section four of this article concludes the literature review.

  1. Methods

    This article follows a scoping literature review protocol. Scoping review methodology is particularly useful for examining a broadly covered topic to evaluate the literature and identify key concepts, theories, evidence, or research gaps comprehensively and systematically (Arksey & O’Malley, 2005).

    1.1 Data Sources and Eligibility

    The following databases were searched for the period between January 1997 and December 2019: JSTOR, Science Direct, Scopus, Springer, SAGE, and Taylor & Francis. The databases were identified by the authors with the help from a librarian using a journal indexing system. The authors drew on the disability voting rights terminology to come up with operational search terms as indicated in Table 1.

    Table 1. Keywords used in the search strategy.


    [(“Accessibility”) AND (“The Right to Vote”) AND (“Disability’)]; OR [(“Right to Vote”) AND (“Disability”)]; OR [(“Assistive Technology”) AND (“Right to Vote”) AND (“Disability”)]; OR [(“Assistive Technology”) AND (“Vote”)]; OR [(“Electoral practices”) AND (“Disability”)]

    Source: Own elaboration.

    The quality assessment of each article was based on the following criteria: reliability, accuracy, methods, relevance, and coherence.3 Following these criteria, a level of confidence was attributed to each article, ranging from “high confidence” if authors reported details for all the criteria, “moderate confidence” when findings corresponded to some of the criteria, and “low confidence” if the authors did not report most of the noted criteria. It is important to clarify that articles ranked as “low confidence” did not correspond to inadequate methods in collecting data, but rather a lack of a clear description of the methods used by the authors.

    Other sources of literature to enhance comprehensiveness of the search and capture all relevant information included grey literature sources4 and Wikipedia Corpus. The critical appraisal of the grey literature followed the AACODS checklist (Authority, Accuracy, Coverage, Objectivity, Date, Significance) proposed by Jess Tyndall (n.d.). Eligible articles were peer–reviewed studies and grey literature published in English or with available English translations. Literature had a primary focus on defining, exploring or describing the research concepts: “political participation,” “barriers to political participation,” “electoral–assistive devices,” and “electoral practices.” Articles were both theoretical and empirical literature, targeting the general population and only randomly including individuals with specific impairments or conditions, from any country, and using both qualitative and quantitative study designs. Criteria for exclusion of articles were the following two: (i) findings or content not related to the objectives of the review or insufficiently informative results and (ii) editorial reviews.

    1.2 Study Appraisal and Synthesis

    The authors undertook a three‑part article screening process. In the first stage, article titles were reviewed. In the second stage of article selection, the researchers reviewed titles and abstracts using the inclusion and exclusion criteria described above. Lastly, in the third stage, the researcher screened the full‑text articles to determine if they met the inclusion/exclusion criteria. A sample of articles was double checked by another researcher from the project Democratic Governance by the Peace and the Human Rights: Multidisciplinary Approaches in Digital Environments (La Gran Colombia University) to confirm compliance with eligibility criteria of the scoping review. Key information about articles was extracted using a framework specifically designed for this review. The extraction included standard bibliometric information and details of the study.

  2. Results

    2.1 Search Results

    From 1,706 records identified through database searching, the author reviewed 103 full articles and retained 57 for this scoping review (see Graph 1). Of the (n=57) sources for final review, most publications, 74% (n=42) of the articles from academic journals included in the critical appraisal were attributed moderate confidence using the criteria described earlier. “Low confidence” was granted to the remaining 36.8% (n=15) of those documents whose authors did not provide sufficient information regarding the methods used to collect the data. Mostly, this review included documents written in English and published from 1997 to the recent works in 2019 (Graph 2).

    Graph 1. Scoping Review Flow Diagram.

    Source: Adapted from Moher, Liberati, Tetzlaff &, Altman (2009).

    Graph 2. Period covered in the literature review.

    Source: Own elaboration.

    Based on the period covered in this review, the year 2006 constitutes a “breaking point” in the state of academic studies on the right to vote by persons with disabilities. This year corresponds to the signature of the UN CRPD. Year 2006 is, presumably, the “cut–off point” from which most academics initiated researching on countries’ efforts to improve the political participation in private and public lives of persons with disabilities. Similarly, the year 2014 is relevant in the work by disability researchers. No relevant historical data can be attributed to this fact.

    In terms of the geographical coverage, the documents included were divided into seven groups regarding the countries or regions to which findings were attributed by the authors (Graph 3). There is a slight difference between the number of studies from Europe (18 in total) and those from the United States (22 in total). Interestingly, it was possible to trace articles published in academic journals from Africa, Australia, Canada, and Asia. For the latter region, documents correspond to countries such as India and Japan. These articles are mostly concerned with assistive technology products. Searching and screening were undertaken in October and November of 2019 (Graph 4).

    Graph 3. Geographical coverage of the literature review.

    Source: Own elaboration.

    Graph 4. Summary of State–of–the–art Framework.

    Source: Own elaboration.

    2.2 Approaches to Political Participation of Persons with Disabilities

    Political participation includes a wide range of activities through which people with disabilities express their opinions on the world and how it is governed. Aseka–Oluchina (2015) and Schur & Kruse (2000) note that political participation of persons with disabilities includes participation in elections through voting or having voted, holding offices at any branch of the government, joining and forming unions...

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