THE Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared in Abuja on Wednesday that it has made adequate preparations to improve the participation of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) in the forthcoming Osun and Ekiti governorship elections.
Prof. Abdulganiy Raji, INEC’s Resident Electoral Commissioner in Osun made this known at the 7th Access Nigeria Campaign Stakeholders’ Roundtable on Inclusive Elections in Nigeria.
Raji said equipment had been provided to ensure that electoral framework and environmental barriers were taken care of.
He said that INEC wanted more inclusive elections and had taken some steps to ensure that PWDs were included in the electoral processes.
“We are not only preparing Braille ballot papers for visually-impaired persons, what are also providing Braille jackets.
“PWDs will use the same ballot papers that others are using, but the ballot paper will now be inserted into Braille jackets.
“This means that one braille jacket can be used by all visually-impaired persons at a polling unit.
“It is not a matter of printing 174,000 Braille ballot papers, but a jacket will now cover all. We have also made provisions for considerable number of magnifying glasses in each ward,’’ he said.
Raji added that INEC was also providing sign language interpreters for those with hearing impairment.
He added that INEC would provide specialised torchlights to help albinos to see clearly at polling units.
In her remarks, the Disability Inclusion Officer at Inclusive Friends Association (IFA), an NGO, Tracy Onabis, expressed concern that PWDs continued to face significant barriers in participating in elections.
She represented IFA’s Executive Director, Grace Jerry, at the roundtable.
Jerry noted that barriers faced by PWDs discouraged them from participating in elections.
She said the roundtable aimed at securing commitments for the introduction of electoral reforms like the introduction of the Braille ballot guide for the visually-impaired and voting instructions for voters with hearing impairments.
Jerry said the roundtable became imperative because IFA deployed sample-based election observation to the Nov. 6, 2021 Anambra governorship election and noted the barriers PWDs experienced.
“IFA observed that in 34 per cent of sampled polling units at the Anambra election, Persons with Disabilities were not given priority to vote in line with INEC’s guidelines.
“It was only in 20 per cent of polling units visited that voters with visual impairments used the Braille Ballot guide.
“This number showed that if the Braille ballot guide was available at more polling units, more voters with visual impairments would have been able to use it.
“Access Nigeria observers reported that 54 per cent of the routes (roads) leading to the areas where sampled polling units were located were inaccessible for PWDs,’’ she said.
Jerry added that as the 2022 off-cycle governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun approached, the group was confident that electoral stakeholders would once again commit to making the elections accessible for PWDs.
In his contribution, Mr Bem Aga, Programme Director at the National Democratic Institute (NDI) said the roundtable was one of the many platforms created by IFA to advocate for the implementation of recommendations for PWDs.
“The implementation of IFA’s recommendations, which include making polling units more physically accessible for PWDs, will go a long way to make the Ekiti and Osun elections more accessible for PWDs,” he said.
Aga said the NDI was hopeful that INEC and other stakeholders would make commitments on making the Ekiti and Osun elections more accessible for PWDs and keep to the commitments.
The roundtable was organised by IFA on its Access Nigeria Campaign with support from the NDI and other partners. (NAN)