Failure to accommodate disabled voters at polls sparks ire

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BEIRUT: During recent municipal elections, monitors documented a total of 646 different violations and encroachments of laws intended to protect the rights of disabled voters, prompting rights groups to call for action and accountability. “There has been a record of 108 violations for having high, steep stairs or not having ballot boxes on ground levels,” said Yasser Ammar, a member of the Lebanese Physically Handicapped Union. He said conditions took a toll on handicapped voters in the recent polls.

The union has collaborated with the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections in a final call for action before more serious measures are taken. It also addressed the inhuman ways in which handicapped people were treated in voting centers throughout the country, from the south to the Lebanese mountains. “We are against you carrying us on long stairs to reach ballot boxes, despite having enough rooms on ground levels,” said Jihad Ismail, secretary of the Handicapped Union, in a press release. “Isn’t it enough that too many of us suffered physical and psychological damage merely due to casting a vote?”

Ismail added that information obtained through the monitoring efforts of the “My Rights Movement” confirmed what the group had warned of in previous general elections regarding the difficulty of nominating and voting for disabled people – a breach in the implementation of the 2214/2009 decree, which enshrines their right to vote and run in the elections. A large number of parking lots near polling stations did not accommodate the needs of disabled voters, while the facilitation of sign language was absent for those who are deaf.

Ismail raised another vital point with regard to the public schools that were used as voting stations. He noted that disabled voters must only struggle with their limitations once every six years, but that children with disabilities are effectively prevented from utilizing them throughout the school year.

“How long will they continue to ignore our demands for a rightfully engineered environment, inclusive and friendly to disabled people? “Continuing to ignore our rights in elections and in securing seats independently deprives us of fulfilling our advancement and [our] development agenda, and favors our marginalization in our own home country,” Ismail said.

The union went on to call for respect for the will of disabled citizens, both voters and candidates, and voiced two separate demands. Their first is that the 2214/2009 decree and the related 220/2000 law be applied in relation to elections. The union said the government should apply a systematic plan with solutions to the obstacles it identified. The second would be of a more strategic nature, whereby the government would immediately approve funding to equip public and private schools with accommodations for people with different needs and abilities. Moreover, future proposals and plans would have to encompass the full rights of all citizens, regardless of their capabilities, their age or their physical attributes.

“I do not see any justification from the government for the current lack of implementation of the law put in order to protect us,” Ismail said, referring to the 220/2000 law. Although Lebanon has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the law was intended to address many of its basic tenets.

“We are also still waiting for approval from Parliament on the promotion of rights of persons with disabilities and their dignity, as ratified by the international convention,” he concluded.

 

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