Why Disabled People Must Vote – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 13 April, 2013

Why disabled people must vote
by Peter Tan. Posted on April 13, 2013, Saturday

“MY one vote will not change anything.”

That was what I used to think. Imagine, a constituency full of like-minded people.

In that case, we deserve the politicians who get voted in due to our apathy.

These politicians may not have our best interests at heart but we have no moral standing to voice out against that.

How can we complain when we did not even bother to participate in the election?

We only have ourselves to blame when that happens.

That is why everyone who is eligible to vote must vote, more so when it comes to disabled people.

It is our right as citizens. That one vote is our most valuable asset as Malaysians. It is also our responsibility and duty as citizens to exercise that right to vote.

The exercising of that right, responsibility and duty makes us active participants in the democratic process of the country which in turn contributes to nation building.

Neither the Federal Constitution nor the Persons with Disabilities Act specifically mentions the political rights of disabled people.

However, Article 29 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) requires that disabled people are guaranteed full and effective participation in political and public life on an equal basis with others.

Malaysia, being a signatory to this instrument and having ratified it, is bound by the CRPD to ensure that those rights are protected.

Going out to vote on this important day raises our visibility in public. There are actually a lot more disabled people than we usually see out and about.

The first ever World Health Organisation (WHO) and World Bank world report on disability estimates that 15 per cent of the world’s population lives with some form of disability.

That is more than a billion people based on the 2010 global population estimates.

Hypothetically, if we apply that percentage on the population of Malaysia, we have 4.2 million people who are experiencing some form of disability.

That is a lot of people by any account. At that figure, disabled people make up the second largest minority that transcends ethnicity, gender and religion in the country.

State parties to the CRPD are obligated to ensure that voting procedures, facilities and materials are accessible, easy to understand and use.

In this aspect, most polling centres are situated in schools and community halls, and they are generally inaccessible.

This is a good opportunity for us to show the various barriers that we face and ensure that the facilities in these polling centres are made accessible, not only for future elections but for people who use it on a daily basis at other times.

By voting, we are able to discover other issues, like how the voting process can be made more dignified for blind people and people with severe impairments.

How do we ensure that this group of people are able to vote while at the same time preserving the integrity and secrecy of their ballot?

The Election Commission needs to look into these matters seriously. The only way to do this is to involve the stakeholders in the decision making process.

Our responsibility does not end after casting our votes. In fact, it is only the beginning.

After that, irrespective of the candidates we have voted for, we have to engage these politicians representing our constituencies.

We have to educate them on the issues affecting disabled people for them to draw up and implement effective policies.

Subsequent to the election in 2008, a group of us drafted a memorandum on the provision of accessible facilities for disabled people.

In Selangor, we forwarded the memorandum to the state government through a state assembly member.

Our fellow advocates in Penang got an appointment with the Chief Minister and presented to him a similar version of the document.

This initiative brought some changes but more is required.

It should be replicated for this election, and this time, hopefully presented to all the state governments in Malaysia.

We need to continue doing this to ensure that we are not forgotten. We must come together and speak in unison in order to have a louder voice.

Disabled people have been marginalised for far too long. Our need for an accessible built environment and public transport are often ignored.

The by-law for the provision of access for disabled people to public buildings and even the Persons with Disabilities Act have not been effective in protecting our rights.

We need to actively pursue our case and at the same time constantly campaign these elected representatives to support our cause.

On our part, many of us have not participated in the electoral process. Many have not even registered as voters.

This is also partly due to the inaccessibility of registration centres and polling centres.

Perhaps the Election Commission can look into easing the registration process for disabled people and extending postal voting to those with severe impairments.

Having said that, if disabled people want society to be inclusive, first and foremost, we have to play our part and exercise our right to vote despite the many barriers we will face.

For registered disabled voters, it is time to shrug off that apathy and realise that we have the power to change the country for the better.

As the second largest minority in the country, we certainly have the numbers to influence and sway these politicians if we play our cards right.

We must not allow this opportunity to slip away because it comes only once every five years or so. Make that one vote count!

Comments can reach the writer via columnists@theborneopost.com.

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