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Braille ballot papers in Australia ensure ‘access for all’ at elections

28 August 2012 09:17 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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By: Dr. Ajith C. S. Perera
News from Australia confirms that not everyone will cast votes the traditional way on September 8. Those who are blind or with low vision can now register for Braille ballot papers for local government elections.

Returned papers will be transcribed and added to the rest.

This facility will be extended, reports confirm, to the next state and federal elections and thereby a significant number of the population would be ensured the ‘right to vote’ regardless of one’s ability to see.

A lot of people would prefer to keep their political preferences to themselves and this initiative will also enable even the ‘blind’ to do that too.
Open your eyes

The way a country treats its ‘disabled’ population, especially the extent to which they enjoy their rights and are respected as fully-fledged respected citizens in attending to day-to-day normal life, is a realistic, internationally recognized, true measure of a country’s good governance and a far more telling indicator of society’s development than GDP.      
   
An estimated four million people - (i.e.~20 per cent of our population), for different reasons, are with restricted mobility and/or impaired visually. A large percentage of them are young people - our life force.

Furthermore, Sri Lanka has the fastest ageing population in our region with over 65 years heading towards 17 per cent of the population.
Out of the estimated 14.5 million eligible voters here, around 2.5 million are physically ‘disabled’ persons.

Every person who qualifies to be an elector and is registered in the appropriate register of electors, regardless of the degree of his/her mobility/ability, is eligible to vote at the elections. It’s an inherent right.

Safety hazards and rights

We warmly appreciate the continuing endeavours of the commissioner of elections and his dedicated staff, to ensure every election is completed in a free and fair manner for all persons.

At many districts, casting their vote could become the crucial deciding factor.

However, many people and, that includes persons with debilitating ailments or conditions that often go unnoticed, persons with restricted mobility and/or visually impaired on the basis of short term or long term physical/sensory disability, elderly and even the pregnant, who although had the desire to go and caste their valuable vote have been reluctantly compelled to refrain from exercising this right, due to potential safety hazards and/or physical barriers either in approaching their polling stations and/or accessing their polling booths – i.e. the right to access another vital public facility by all. This writer, voluntarily, has also previously forwarded feasible low-cost remedial measures and check-lists to overcome most of the man-made physical barriers at polling booths.

We are also aware that in spite of many polling booths and stations yet remaining inaccessible and unapproachable for an increasing number of voters, at most places the staff on election duty are quite helpful with understanding.

It’s now or never

We have also been informed by the Commissioner of Elections that District Election Officers and Returning Officers have also been informed to give attention to our request and provide possible facilities to enable disabled voters.

However, what has STILL NOT HAPPENED is to inform the public early enough through print and electronic media, through a communiqué from the election commissioner, what facilities are available (and from whom) and what procedures are in place to enable a physically or visually impaired voter to overcome external barriers - physical or attitudinal or both.

Such prior wide awareness is the only possible meaningful way to dispel any unwanted fears and reluctance of the physically disadvantaged eligible voters and encourage them to cast their votes freely and fairly without discrimination.  Requested action is a simple measure but of utmost importance to at least a million of voters disadvantaged on the basis of disability to empower them on 26th January next. Active and understanding support here means recognizing the disabled persons as full-fledged citizens of our country with dignity and respecting their inherent right to vote unhindered with dignity.
[The writer, Hony. Secretary-General of ‘IDIRIYA’, is a voluntary disability rights activist and a competent advisor on accessibility.]
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