By Angela Atabo
The Inclusive Friends Association (IFA) has urged Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to provide sign language interpreters at polling and registration centres for the Nov.6 Anambra governorship poll, to prevent voter apathy from Persons With Disabilities (PWDs).
Ms Grace Jerry, IFA Executive Director,made the call at a news conference on Tuesday in Abuja.
The conference tagged: “Access Nigeria Campaign Final Observation Statement on the Accessibility of the Anambra Continues Voter Registration Process for PWDs’’ was aimed at making recommendations to improve accessibility for PWDs in the Anambra election.
Jerry said that providing sign language interpreters and PWDs specific instruction posters would assist residents with hearing impairments and other forms of disabilities to register during Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) and voting.
She said that the IFA-led Access Nigeria Campaign observed the CVR process in Anambra.
According to her,the objective of the observation was to ascertain the accessibility of the CVR process for PWDs and make recommendations that will assist INEC to make the process more accessible for PWDs in the future.
“Access Nigeria observers reported that INEC did not provide sign language interpreters to assist citizens with hearing impairments to register in all 20 registration centres during the four-week observation period.
“The total absence of both sign language interpreters and PWD-specific instruction posters excluded and discouraged citizens with hearing impairments from registering as voters.
“During the period of observation, there was a clear absence of security officials at 14 out of the 20 registration centres visited.
“With the Anambra election fast approaching and with a heightened fear of violence, the absence of security officials at these centres will discourage PWDs from engaging in the registration process,” she said.
She said if the CVR and other electoral processes were accessible to PWDs, it would increase the participation of the association in all phases of the electoral process.
Mr Oluwaseyi Moses, Programme Manager, Access Nigeria ,IFA ,said the group commended INEC on the efforts made so far to ensure that PWDs were not left behind in the CVR.
Moses said that based on the observation of the CVR,the group made some recommendations aimed at removing barriers faced by PWDs in the process.
“The police and other security agencies should support INEC by ensuring that all communities across Nigeria are peaceful enough for eligible citizens to register as voters.
“For example, the communal crisis in Ayamelum prevented many residents and observers from participating in the voter registration process there.
“INEC should provide mobile and/or permanent ramps and handrails at voter registration centres to aid the mobility of PWDs.
“Alternatively, the registration points in the centres should be located in areas that do not have staircases or other barriers as this will immediately eliminate the difficulty faced by PWDs who use crutches or wheelchairs,” he said.
Moses added that the internal layout of all registration centres should be made spacious enough for all categories of PWDs to move freely without barriers during the CVR.
He said the association wanted INEC to strengthen its monitoring of registration officials across the country.
He said that IFA, Access Nigeria Campaign called on INEC to immediately incorporate the data of PWDs, disaggregated by types of disabilities, collected during the Anambra CVR process, into the planning.
This, he said was for deployment of voting aides like the Braille ballot guide, election day written instructions, magnifying glasses, during the Anambra governorship election.
Moses said the group wanted INEC to increase collaboration with security agencies to ensure adequate deployment of their personnel to the registration centres.
He said that the presence of the security agencies would enhance the confidence of safety to PWDs which would, in turn, increase their participation.
“The campaign hopes the Commission will immediately seek to address the challenges identified in this statement as we look forward to the gubernatorial election,” he said.
Mr Bem Aga, Programme Director, National Democratic Institute (NDI) said the institute and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) supported IFA, Access Nigeria Campaign to carry out the project to open up the electoral process for PWDs.
Aga said one of NDI’s objectives was to ensure that all people were treated justly and in accordance with their diverse conditions as well as guarantee inclusion of all.
He commended the report from Access Nigeria for the report on PWDs in the CVR process and urged INEC to take steps to address some of the observations and areas of concern highlighted.