The disability community through its umbrella body Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities, JONAPWD, has expressed its desire to partner with the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to reduce inclusivity and accessibility gaps in the electoral process especially as it concerns those living with disabilities.
This was contained in a communiqué which was signed by its National President, Ekaete Judith Umoh, following a one-day workshop to review and appraise the participation of persons with disabilities in the 2015 general elections held in Abuja recently. The workshop facilitated by the JONAPWD through the UNDP-Democratic Governance for Development DGDII Project with support from the European Union emphasized that INEC’s failure to have data of persons with disability in the country, continues to form a cog in the effective participation of PWDs in the electoral process.
Participants at the workshop appraised the roles of key statutory and political institutions in the facilitation of the conduct of inclusive and accessible electoral process for persons with disabilities during the 2015 general elections. While commending INEC staff for an appreciable level of attitudinal change towards people with disabilities and its efforts to improve accessibility to polling centers in some areas, they pointed out that key statutory and political institutions including the INEC, political parties, security agencies, development agencies and the media had tremendous influence on the level of inclusion of people with disabilities, PWDs during the last general election. INEC was also applauded for making concerted efforts to give those with disability a sense of participation by producing voter election materials in Braille for blind voters, the use of a sign language interpreter for the deaf and the implementation of priority voting across the country.
However the communiqué identified major challenges to the effective inclusion and access of PWDs to the electoral process to include: inaccessible polling units, inability of disabled voters such as the blind, those affected by leprosy, deaf and dumb, amputees to independently and secretly cast their ballots as required by the electoral law due to the absence of the Braille or tactile ballot guide; high discrimination of persons with disabilities in political parties, high cost of elections, electoral violence and poorly trained security officials.
Another challenge was the placement of ballot boxes on platforms that was not within the reach of voters that were wheel chair bound. Meanwhile, participants commended the political parties whose manifestos they said were more disability sensitive while there was a reasonable increase in the participation of PWDs in party activities including party rallies and campaigns. Security agencies were not spared as they were lampooned for their inability to support PWDs to effectively participate in the electoral process probably because they were not adequately informed of INEC’s policy on priority voting.
paticipating also lauded the media for increasing its focus on disability issues during the election to promote inclusion of those with disability. Commendations were also given to the UNDP Democratic Governance for Development project and the European Union for the successful organization of the workshop, which they said was timely and relevant towards the identification of gaps and remedies for the improvement of inclusion and access for PWDs in the electoral process. A communiqué issued at the end of the workshop, called on INEC to take account of the institutional, infrastructural and attitudinal barriers militating against the participation of PWDs in governance and electoral process by drafting a National Policy on Disability.
It was also suggested the provision of adequate Braille materials for blind voters, sign language interpreters for the deaf while polling units should be improved for ease of access by persons with physical disabilities. While urging INEC to encourage all political parties to establish disability wings in their parties, JONAPWD also called on INEC to employ qualified PWDs as Disability Desk Officers and National Electoral Commissioners while carrying out continuous and effective campaigns to raise awareness on disability issues with regard to the inclusion of PWDs in the political and electoral processes. It also encouraged the disability community through the JONAPWD to assist INEC so as to reduce the inclusivity and accessibility gaps in the electoral process.
Furthermore, the communiqué called for more capacity building and orientation for security personnel involved in the electoral process on how to treat people with disabilities. On the other hand, there were suggestions for the media to pay more attention to disability during its coverage and reportage of the electoral process so as to raise the public’s awareness on the need to include PWDs in the electoral process.
While urging all political parties to resist any form of discrimination against people with disabilities, the association called for the establishment of a National Disability Political Forum and Fund as well as the implementation of an affirmative action plan by party stakeholders to address inequalities in the political system. Be that as it may, the participants with one voice, agreed that there was need for the Disability Bill to be revisited by the legislature and advised PWDs to make conscious efforts to actively participate in party activities especially at the grassroots level by making intellectual, material, financial, contributions towards the progress of the political parties they belong to. The workshop had over 150 participants drawn from the six clusters of disabilities across the six geo-political zones in Nigeria, the 36 State Chairs from the state chapters of JONAPWD and the FCT, prominent members of the major political parties and other stakeholders.
-Recommendations from a one-day workshop held by the Joint National Association of Persons With Disabilities, JONAPWD, has once again raised the question about the place of the PWD in the country’s electoral process held recently in Abuja, writes Nwakaego Ohaegbulam