The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) is deeply saddened by the passing of Senior Disability Rights Adviser Yusdiana (“Diana”) of Indonesia. She died of complications after surgery in Jakarta on December 28. Our sincerest thoughts are with her family and the disability community.

As a young adult, Diana contracted polio and learned how to navigate life, physically, emotionally and mentally using a wheelchair. She then went on to advocate tirelessly for equal rights and strived to increase the political participation of persons with disabilities.

“As a person with a disability who grew up experiencing many barriers, I see my participation in elections gives me the opportunity to make a decision on who best will represent my voice in parliament and government. [I want to elect a] person who I believe will fight for my rights and community to have a decent life as equal as other citizens,” said Diana.

Through a leadership position with the Indonesia Disabled People’s Association (PPDI), she travelled across Southeast Asia as an ambassador to raise awareness about the need for greater inclusion in the political process. She was instrumental in the development of the General Election Network for Disability Access in Southeast Asia (AGENDA) – an initiative supported by IFES. Along with AGENDA colleagues, Diana successfully advocated for people with disabilities to be included in the 2012 ASEAN Human Rights Declaration.

“Diana was not only a dear friend and an immensely kind and important colleague, she was a true force of nature and a formidable leader for her community and her cause – particularly in providing leadership on behalf of PPDI in the establishment of the AGENDA network throughout Southeast Asia,” said Peter Erben, IFES Senior Electoral Adviser and Indonesia Chief of Party. “In her memory, and honoring her quest, others must now rise and continue her important work.”

Diana observed five elections in Indonesia and in Cambodia, and provided feedback to election management bodies on how to make the electoral process more accessible. In June 2013, she spoke at the 23rd Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Her attendance marked growing recognition and appreciation for the political rights of people with disabilities. During her speech, she underscored the importance of ensuring political rights for persons with disabilities.

“Southeast Asia is a region with 90 million persons with disabilities, around 15 percent of the total population,” said Diana. “The region is in the growing process of democratization as we have seen happening in Myanmar. 

“As persons with disabilities, participating in elections is important, since it will give us full participation in the development of our country. We can really make our own choices – to vote, to be elected and to be election officers. As a citizen, voting opens doors to other rights.”

Listen to Advocating for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Southeast Asia, a podcast featuring Yusdiana, IFES Access and Inclusion Specialist Virginia Atkinson, and IFES AGENDA Program Manager Chris Donn.

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