PLWDs to get Better Deal in 2019 Election

PLWDs to get Better Deal in 2019 Election

Persons Living With Disabilities (PLWDs) will get a better deal during the 2019 election as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has resolved to provide them with adequate necessary aides to facilitate their easy voting process. This, according to the Commission, is part of “measures to deepen inclusivity in the electoral process” which began with

Persons Living With Disabilities (PLWDs) will get a better deal during the 2019 election as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has resolved to provide them with adequate necessary aides to facilitate their easy voting process. This, according to the Commission, is part of “measures to deepen inclusivity in the electoral process” which began with the Anambra governorship election held in November 2017.

Apart from ensuring that “the PLWDs are given preference on Election Day, all voters on wheel chair, crutches or who are obviously elderly are usually taken to the front of the queue once spotted. Our officials also render special assistance as they might require,” says Mr Rotimi Oyekanmi, chief press secretary to the INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu.

“We have also taken measures to assist voters with special needs. People living with Albinism (PLAs) were provided with magnifying glasses during the Anambra governorship and subsequent elections. We are also going to provide aides to voters with visual impairment,” he says.

INEC National Commissioner, Dr Adekunle Ogunmola says, “We’re collaborating effectively with PLWD groups in line with the newly produced “Framework on Access and Participation of PWDs in the Electoral Process””.

This includes: Instruction postal (EC30E(PWD)) for the deaf at Polling Units ( PUs). Braille ballot guide for the visually impaired. Magnifying lense for Albinos. Making the voting area accessible to the physically challenged. Form EC40H for data gathering on PLWDs at PUs. Priority Voting for PLWDs, the elderly & pregnant women. There will also be sign language interpreters at the collation centres.

INEC has earlier said it will introduce sign languages and other communication techniques to aid the full participation of People-Living-with-Disabilities (PLWDs) in the 2019 general elections. Ogunmola, stated this in Lokoja at a workshop on capacity-building with the theme “Communication Skills for Desk Officers in Charge of People Living with Disabilities.’’

Ogunmola, also chairman, Partnership and Outreach Committee of the Commission, said that introduction of sign language was part of moves to ensure inclusiveness in electoral processes.

He identified lack of detailed and comprehensive data of PLWDs based on the disabilities and inaccessibility of some public places designated as polling units as some of the challenges. Another, he said, was inadequate number of trained personnel to interface with disabled persons on electoral issues, assuring that the electoral body was determined to address the issues.

Ogunmola listed introduction of sign language interpretation on INEC programmes like Electoral Half Hour and message at collation centres for election results as part of steps to be taken in addressing the matter.

According to him, INEC is also working towards prevailing on political parties to mainstream people-living-with-disabilities into party decision-making process and leadership.

In addition, he said that the Commission would embark on recruitment of PLWDs into the INEC and come up with policy framework on electoral plans for them and other special group of stakeholders.

The commissioner expressed determination of INEC to deepen the participation of the persons in the electoral processes, urging participants to come up with suggestions to aid this.

“As a responsive institution, INEC appreciates the importance of inclusive electoral process, thus, its commitment to open up the electoral space for citizens, including people-living-with-disabilities,’’ he said.

Also speaking, another INEC Commissioner, Mrs May Agbamuche, said that the electoral body would introduce Form EC40H to capture information and statistics of PLWDs in readiness for the elections.

Agbamuche also stated that magnifying glasses to aid participation of the visually-impaired, including albinos, would be introduced to aid the inclusion of some PLWDs into all the aspects of the electoral process.

Mrs Dorothy Bello, INEC Deputy Director, Civil Society Liaison, said that the workshop was organised to build the capacity of participants to relate and communicate effectively with PLWDs in an acceptable manner to discharge their duties.

She said that the workshop was coming at a time when preparations were on for the governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states.

Bello stated that the knowledge and experience to be shared at the workshop would guide the participants to interact effectively with disabled people before and during the elections.

“As desk officers, we need to be well-equipped and trained on how to use better language when communicating with people-living-with-disabilities in order to deepen our democracy,” she said.

Earlier in his welcome address, Resident Electoral Commissioner in Kogi, Prof. James Apam, called on participants to take the workshop seriously, saying it was part of efforts to conduct free, fair and acceptable elections in future.

While commending INEC for the appreciable gains in providing assistive aides to PLWDs during the September 2018 governorship election in Osun state, The Albino Foundation (TAF) says more still needed to be done.

The provision of assistive materials by INEC was in line with a survey earlier conducted by TAF on both the number and type of PLWDs. The baseline survey had revealed that there are 5000 PLWDs in the 31 LGAs. The survey also showed their polling units and disability type, making it easy for INEC to provide the assistive materials.

“The accessible polling units were the ones on the streets where they made use of canopies.  However, most polling units stationed under trees and school compounds were not accessible because of the rough paths leading to the polling stations and big gutters around the places. Some of the ballot boxes in the schools polling stations were placed on high ground which made it difficult for the PLWDs and aged people to access during the voting exercise,” the TAF report says.

During the Ekiti state governorship election which took place earlier, TAF which is implementing the European Union Support for Democracy and Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN) project dealing with the PLWDs,  had noted that the “Officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) displayed professionalism during the elections. Priority was given to elderly persons and persons with disability. In places where Braille was not provided, officials intimated persons with disability ahead of the voting exercise on the approach to be used (assistive voting).”

“There was a deliberate attempt by INEC officials to mine data on disaggregated disabilities during the voting exercise on Election Day, with specific intention to incorporate Albinism and other vulnerable groups. This is highly commendable. We observed that these efforts produced the data released by INEC returning officers during the announcement of results at the final stage of the electoral process”.

Both TAF and the Centre for Citizens for Disabilities (CCD) however faulted the INEC on the non provision of assistive materials like ramps, Braille, magnifying glasses or handrails for the PLWDs in the Ekiti state election.

They decry the inappropriate location of the ballot boxes which they claim “was either inaccessible or too high for the physically challenged”. Some of the ballot boxes were located across gutters, making it impossible for a physically challenged person on wheel chair to access, they claim. “Besides, there was no provision of trained persons to assist PWDs that might need help”.

“Persons with disability were not properly mainstreamed in the electoral process by the non-provision of Braille for the blind, ramps for the physically challenged, sign language interpreters or pictorials for the hearing Impaired and hand-held magnifier for persons with albinism and other forms of visual Impairment”, says TAF on the Ekiti governorship election.

Underscored in the inclusion of the PLWDs in the political process is the provision of assistive aides. “Without the provision of sign language interpreters, promotion of Braille materials, PWDs will never have first hand information of the activities and manifestoes of political parties to enable them make informed decisions,” TAF says in its 62 page report on the Osun governorship election.

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