September 21, 2017
Kathmandu: Nepal conducted two phases of local elections on May 14 and June 14, respectively. People from all walks of life are now eagerly awaiting a successful third phase of local elections in Province 2, scheduled to be held on September 18. The latest elections were ground-breaking because citizens who were deprived of voting for local representatives since the last local elections in 1997 have finally been able to elect their representatives.
The elections are expected not only to expedite development activities in a transparent and accountable manner, but also to ensure an inclusive society and stable politics. Further, these elections are imperative for implementing the new Constitution as the elections utilize the new local structures. In this context, elections are a crucial step toward strengthening democracy and promoting accountability.
However, the concerned agencies failed to give enough attention to the aspect of accessibility of election booths. While data regarding the problem of accessibility during elections is scarce, it is a well-known fact that polling booths, for the most part, remained inaccessible for persons with disabilities. The Election Commission had set up more than 1,500 elections booths. Sadly, the number of accessible polling booths was almost non-existent.
Advanced and developed countries ensure a number of options to help those with disabilities cast their votes. Innovations such as large print ballot papers, tactile devices, hearing loops and other inventions have made it easier for persons with disability to cast vote. But in Nepal, even ramps to polling booths were not managed in local elections, making it extremely problematic for people with disabilities. Broadly, concerned agencies failed to internalize the accessibility aspect in the elections.
The plight of persons with disabilities during the recent local elections provided a glimpse of the larger picture, especially in regards to the inaccessibility of the public buildings and infrastructures. Most of the polling booths were set up in public schools, colleges, community buildings or other such public spaces. None of these public buildings had ramps or other facilities for persons with disabilities. This situation reinforced the need and urgency for making our public buildings accessible to people living with disabilities. An inclusive universal design plan should be adopted when constructing or upgrading infrastructure. It is clear that differently-abled voters, among others, should not be disadvantaged. And for persons with disability, accessible polling booths are one of the key preconditions to casting votes without barriers.
By not ensuring disability-inclusive polling booths, it has been proven that the matter of disability inclusion leaves much to be desired. The government should work toward ensuring basic civil rights of persons with disabilities.
The global community is heading toward achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that envisages a world where no one is left behind. As a signatory country, Nepal has also shown commitment to the global goals and has done some commendable work towards achieving the SDGs by 2030.
Further, Nepal’s Parliament recently endorsed the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill. This new law is guided by a rights-based approach and the access of persons with disabilities to basic services, human rights, and opportunities including health, education and employment are expected to increase with the effective implementation of this act. The new law is an attempt to domesticate the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), an international disability treaty that promotes, defends and reinforces the rights of persons with disabilities.
The process of reform should be started immediately. In the short term, concerned agencies should ensure that every polling booth is accessible to all, regardless of forms of impairments. In the long run, all other aspects of advanced accessibility should be taken into consideration while producing ballot papers, manifestos and other elections related activities.
Source: The Kathmandu Post