The view of stakeholders who gathered in Lagos recently was that election managers have not been fair disabled persons, because their plight is not taken into consideration when preparing for elections. Available statistics indicate that the disabled are always marginalised in the electoral process.
The event was attended by stakeholders from different parts of the country, including those living with disabilities, civil society organisations working in the interest of disabled people, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Like their able-bodied counterparts, people living with disabilities are also entitled to exercise their franchise, but because of lack of adequate facilities they are often marginalised. So far, their complaints have yielded very little dividend. it is now time to end the discrimination in order to promote harmony during elections.
To achieve this objective, there must be a comprehensive policy to support the electoral rights of such persons, so that there can be a just society where every vote will count.
Olumekun said the commission has taken a number of steps to pave the way for persons living with disabilities to participate more actively in the electoral process. He said: “Some of the activities include establishing a disability desk at the national headquarters, all state offices, as well as the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, formulating policy for person with disabilities, providing various assistive devices during election, to mention a few.
To strengthen INEC for the task ahead, one of the strategies to achieve this is the development of an electoral database on persons with disabilities that will accommodate staff, voters and candidates.
The director added that the workshop will ensure that harmonious format will be adopted to ensure uniformity in collation of the aggregated data of persons with disabilities in the register across the country.
Earlier, in 2016, there was a pilot project during the Edo and Ondo governorship elections, based on a sample, to ascertain the effectiveness of the Braile Ballot Guide. But the audits report was that persons with disabilities are constrained by barriers, including the absence of any assistive materials to allow voters with impairment to vote in secret.
Jake Ekpe, an advocate for persons living with disability, said there cannot be free and fair elections when persons with disabilities are prevented from voting. He said: “They have been marginalized in the past and the way out is for this gathering to come up with adequate solution that can guarantee voting for all.”
Ekpe, the promoter of the Albino Foundation, added: “We cannot have an inclusive free and fair election without knowing the number of people in this category. This is a very vital exercise, something that many of us started, I am glad we are beginning to get results.
The plight of persons living with disabilities is not just a national issue; the United Nations (UN) has been in the forefront to promote their rights to free and fair ballots. The UN believes discrimination against them in their aspirations to attain whatever position they desire amounts to injustice.