PWDs appeal to Comelec for ‘barrier-free’ elections

MANILA, Philippines – While there are efforts to make polling centers friendly to all, disability sector representatives said in a press conference on Wednesday, March 27, there’s more that can be done to make the elections accessible.

Alyansa ng may Kapansanang Pinoy (AKAP) representative Maureen Mata lamented the barriers facing the disability sector when it comes to the elections, despite a Commission on Elections (Comelec) mandate to establish Accessible Polling Places (APPs) for people with disabilities (PWDs) through Republic Act 10366.

May kakulangan po talaga sa Comelec…. Kulang na kulang po na parang 1% of the 100% of we’re expecting from the government agency para i-implement ‘yung karapatan namin,” Mata said.

(The Comelec has lapses…. It’s so lacking that we felt only 1% of the 100% that we’re expecting from the government agency to implement our rights.)

Disability sector representatives stressed there are other barriers for PWDs in the elections aside from the physical. These issues include ineffective sensitivity training for those working at the polls and a lack of information dissemination for both PWDs and election officers and volunteers.

Despite the sensitivity training sessions conducted, election officers still show a lack of sensitivity to PWDs.

Carmen Zubiaga, Officer-in-Charge and Director of the National Council for Disability Affairs, recounted how there were also volunteers who showed negligence in their duty to assist PWDs.

Pagbaba sa polling places, ano ang makikita namin? Ang mga volunteers na naka-uniporme pa, nandoon nakatumbok sa isang sulok. Kahit may makitang PWD, hindi tinutulungan, (When we go down to polling places, what do we see? Volunteers in uniform are gathered in one area. Even though they see PWD, they won’t help),” said Zubiaga.

Mata further explained that even the PWDs are not properly informed about how the system should work. While the sector is pleased to see that Comelec is trying to help PWDs, Mata said, “Kulang pa (it’s still not enough).”

Coordination with other government agencies

The representatives also urged Comelec to work with other government agencies to make voting precincts more accessible. For instance, the representatives mentioned the Department of Education (DepEd), who could provide temporary or permanent ramps in voting areas situated in schools and educational centers.

Other appeals to government agencies included the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) with regard to clearing sidewalks of physical obstructions, and for the Department of Transportation to provide accessible public transportation for voters with disabilities.

Fully Abled Nation representative Bianca Lapuz stressed that other concerned agencies can help make the elections accessible to elections through their corresponding mandate. She added the DepEd can jump in the conversation by providing ramps, as public schools are not under the mandate of Comelec. The DPWH can also allot a budget to make sidewalks PWD-friendly.

So ‘yung may mandate na gumawa niyan, sana makatugon doon sa usapin na accessibility, will be really DepEd and DPWH. (So those with the mandate to do the tasks involved to address issues with accessibility will be really DepEd and DPWH.) That’s why we hope COMELEC can work with DepEd and DPWH,” Lapuz said.

Current conditions

The Asia Foundation conducted a monitoring of public schools last year. The group found some ramps were too steep, while some school entrances with steps had no ramps, and restrooms were inaccessible due to a narrow entrance. Aside from this, they found an elevated room, directly labeled “Priority Lane” with high steps and no ramp at all.

Naintindihan ko ‘yung effort din ng Commission na ilagay nga lahat sa ground floor 'yung PWD [polling places] pero itong mga very basic concern, nasa ground floor pala pero ‘yung ground floor pala 3 steps pa bago ka makapasok, tapos bababa ka ulit ng 3 steps,” Lapuz said.

(I understand the effort of the Commission to assign PWD [polling places] on the ground floor but these very basic concerns, where [APPs are] at the ground floor but would still take 3 steps to enter, and then you have to go down the 3 steps again.)

Disability sector representatives said inaccessibility has affected the voter turnout for the disability sector. Mata recalled that in the previous elections, voters with disabilities would rather go home than resort to being carried out, for safety reasons.

[Sa] accessibility sa schools talaga, ‘pag may nalaman po nila na nasa second and third floor [ang APPs], either kinakain na lang nila ‘yung kanilang pride kasi hindi talaga sila nagpapabuhat. Delikado po para sa nagbubuhat at the same time sa bubuhatin…. 'Yung iba naman, ang ating mga deaf lalo pang hindi naiintindihan, wala naman pong sesenyas para sa kanila, umuuwi na lamang din,” she explained.

(In school accessibility, when PWDs find out that [the APPs] are at the second and third floor, either they would swallow their pride because they don’t want to be carried. It’s dangerous for the one who would carry and at the same time the PWD. As in the case of others, the deaf wouldn’t understand things, since there’s no one to translate into sign language for them. They would just go home.)

The votes of the PWDs

Lapuz pointed out the need to recognize PWDs as citizens who deserve to enjoy the same right to suffrage as everyone else.

“We want to look at PWDs as voters, not just people that you are giving charity to,” said Lapuz.

Zubiaga also called for a true PWD-inclusive election and pointed out that disability should not stop PWDs from upholding their responsibility as citizens.

Sa eleksyong ito, bigyan nating karapatan ang may mga kapansanan. Dahil ang kapansanan ay hindi hadlang upang ating tuparin ang ating tungkulin at obligasyon bilang mamamayan, at isatinig ang damdamin ng sektor na kami ay kaisa. Dapat kami ay kasali,” Zubiaga said.

(This coming election, let’s give the right to the disabled. Because disability is not a hindrance for us to uphold our responsibility and obligation as citizens, and we should hear the sentiments of the sector, that we are one with you. It is right that we are included.) Rappler.com

Sofia Faye Virtudes is a Rappler intern. She is a Development Communication graduate from the University of the Philippines Los Baños.

Sofia Virtudes

Sofia Virtudes is a digital communications specialist for Rappler. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Development Communication from the University of the Philippines Los Baños. She tweets at @fiavirtudes.

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