MANILA, Philippines – The 2013 elections were more inclusive of persons with disability (PWDs) compared to past elections, but much more needs to be done.
This was the joint declaration of PWD group Katipunan ng May Kapansanan sa Pilipinas (Kampi) and election watchdog Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente) in a press conference on Saturday, May 25.
Of the 365,000 registered PWD voters, only 82,000 were able to cast their votes in the 2013 polls.
While still low, the PWD voter turnout was higher than in the 2010 elections, according to Kampi president Josephine de Vera.
“Natutuwa sila dahil na-exercise nila ‘yung kanilang karapatan,” said de Vera of the prevailing sentiments from PWDs based on her organization’s monitoring. (They are glad, because they were able to exercise their right.)
Lente added that a lot of PWDs voted for the first time during the 2013 polls.
A 46-year-old visually-impaired resident of Dagupan City in Pangasinan was among the PWDs able to vote for the first time since being eligible, as recorded by Kampi.
The increase in PWD participation was credited to the National PWD Voter Registration Day held for the first time in 2012 by the Commission on Elections (Comelec). The registration, which utilized a Special Voter’s Registration Form, was pushed by then Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento.
The enhanced database resulting from the registration recorded the voting needs of voters with disability.
“We are pleased with the efforts of Comelec to respond to the needs of those from our sector through Comelec Resolution 9485…. But why does it seem there is doubt if we were truly included in the elections that transpired on May 13?” read the joint statement of Kampi and Lente in Filipino.
Comelec Resolution 9485 mandates the setting up of Accessible Polling Places (APPs) at the ground level of polling precincts as well as other forms of assistance to PWDs.
However, there were only two polling precincts with APPs on election day as part of the pilot test.
Lente reiterated the need to intensify the PWD-sensitivity training of BEIs, citing reports of voter disenfranchisement in a Makati precinct.
Election inspectors reportedly refused to accommodate requests to transfer the voting areas of PWDs to the ground level. Senior citizens with canes also struggled to vote as their precincts were on the 2nd and 3rd levels of the school building.
“Although na-orient sila, hindi talaga sila ganoon ka-sensitive sa needs ng PWDs,” said Maureen Mata, who witnessed first-hand how some election inspectors did not seem to know about the PWD priority lane. (Although they might have been oriented, they are not as sensitive to the needs of PWDs.)
Lente and Kampi also recommended that facilities and tools that can assist PWDs, such as audio devices for the deaf and ramps for wheelchair users, should be provided.
Wheelchair users also need spacious voting areas for maneuvering, while the visually-impaired need interpreters and/or materials in Braille.
According to Lente executive director Ona Caritos, responding to the needs of voters with disability necessitates inter-agency collaboration.
The two groups called on the Department of Education and the Department of Public Works and Highways to ensure that each public school building used as a polling precinct complies with the standards of PWD-accessibility.
The lack of appropriate facilities and assistance made voting for PWDs inconvenient, if not impossible, said Lente.
The greatest challenge, however, is not in terms of resources but mindset.
De Vera of Kampi said ensuring PWD-inclusive elections requires empowering PWDs to believe that their votes matter. De Vera herself was diagnosed with polio when she was 6 months old, causing her to walk with difficulty.
PWD rights advocate Maureen Mata echoed De Vera, saying most PWDs refuse to register as voters because election inspectors do not seem to be aware of the importance of their rights.
Mata added that the families of PWDs must give equal importance to the voting rights of relatives with disability.
“Their families are still the best support system to encourage and assist them in voting,” De Vera said in Filipino.
De Vera cited as an example the visually-impaired first-time voter of Dagupan City who cast her vote at the North Central Elementary School with the assistance of her cousin. – Rappler.com
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