Polling stations lack disability access

PHNOM PENH: More than two thirds of polling stations were inaccessible to people with disabilities voting in Sunday’s polls, despite  the National Election Committee’s efforts to improve the situation.

Ngin Saorath, executive director of the Cambodian Disabled People’s Organisation, said NEC officials had monitored polling stations in Phnom Penh and the provinces, paying more attention to people with disabilities than ever before.

However, he said entrances to voting booths were too narrow at some polling stations, ballot boxes were out of reach, voting information was displayed too high and there were often no ballot papers for people who are blind. Most stations also had no wheelchair ramp.

“Almost 70 percent of the polling stations had no ramp for wheelchair users.” Mr Saorath said. “Some places put a table next to the entrance, which made it difficult for people with disabilities to get in and out. We want the NEC to consider these problems and do more to facilitate voting for disabled people.”

Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, presented a report on the issue at a press conference.

“We do not want to see polling stations without ramps,” he said. “When the polling stations have no wheelchair ramp, others help carry people in by picking their wheelchair up. It does not seriously affect the election results, but we should be making life easier for voters with disabilities.”

Eu Ly, executive director of the Cambodian Disabled People Independent Living Organisation, said he faced difficulty accessing his local polling station in his wheelchair. The school at Teuk Thla commune in Sen Sok district had no ramp and the ballot box was too high, he said.

“I could not go in and out of the school by myself. I needed help from other people to carry me up the stairs,” he said.

Besides the request for ramps in the next election, Mr Ly called on the NEC to help people with vision, hearing disabilities access electoral processes and information.

NEC spokesman Hang Puthea acknowledged problems for people with disabilities at some polling stations and said he will inspect the report.

“The NEC did pay attention to people with disabilities but we recognise there were issues in some polling stations,” he said.

According to the NEC, 21,350 disabled people registered to vote. However, the Cambodian Disabled People’s Organisation said there are as many as 550,000 people with disabilities, with between 300,000 and 400,000 eligible to vote.

Source: Khmer Times

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