Report by Basília Maria Teresa (Citizen Journalist)
The people with disabilities lamented and are concerned about the accessibilities of polling centers because they were not accessible and unfriendly to the people with disabilities on the day of the 2022’s presidential election. Such conditions complicated them in casting their votes in the elections. The establishment of polling centers on the hills, level houses with no braille letters, rampa and toilets have also been huge concerns of the people with disabilities during the elections.
In regard to those difficulties, Madalena da Costa who is physically disabled said she was concerned about the accessibilities set up at the polling centers on the presidential election day.
“The huge barrier that we faced at the polling center was accessibility where it was not accessible to us to cast our votes in the presidential election. The polling center itself was not accessible, some polling centers on the hills and some were on the level houses, how can we the people with disabilities access,” she lamented.
She urged the country’s State bodies, namely the Technical Secretariat for Electoral Administration (STAE) and National Election Commission (CNE) to set up polling centers that could help facilitate the people with disabilities to exercise their electoral rights as the Timorese citizens.
“We want accessible spaces to be created in the next election in a way that we can access and we also would like recommend to the Government to be in cooperation with the organizations of the people with disabilities in order to see the accessibilities at polling center because they know well the needs of the people with disability,” she recomended.
Meanwhile, disabled Agostinho do Rego also recognized that every year, the Government prioritized the issue of the people with disabilities, but this year it did not pay much attention to the accessibilities for the people with disabilities at the polling centers.
“Each election, the Government really prioritizes the people with disabilities by establishing a team in order to cooperate with the organizations of the people with disabilities in the context of electoral participation. Unfortunately, the Government did not pay much attention to polling centers, for example there were no rampa, no toilets and there were also braille ballot papers for the blind citizens to vote,”Agostinho said.
Therefore, he called the Government to pay more attention to the needs of the people with disabilities at polling centers on election day. Apart from the infrastructure, he also called on the Government to put a specific priority for the blind citizens by providing them with braille ballot papers in order to help facilitate them to vote.
On the other hands, Diretor Ra’es Hadomi Timor Oan (RHTO), Joãozito dos Santos, said the people with disabilities had a great enthusiasm to take part in the elections, however the State bodies had not yet provided them with a proper accessibility at all polling centers, saying it affected the participation rate of the people with disabilities.
“Based on our observation, the people with disabilities a great have enthusiasm to take part in the election. Actually, it was very high participation in the elections, however the State bodies, namely CNE and STAE have not yet provided accessible spaces for the people with disabilities, like rampa, toilets, which are not accessible, no clean wáter and there were also some poling center placed on the level houses. The doors of the polling stations were narrow and hard for Wheelchairs to go through and there were no braille ballot papers and braille ballot boxes,” Director Joãoizito said.
He explained that such conditions had led to discriminationn against the people with disabilities, urging STAE and CNE to hold an identification to those places with the relevant ministries, especially the Ministry of Public Works in a way that can help facilitate the people with disabilities at polling centers.
In response, Director-General of STAE, Acilino Manuel Branco, said STAE was currently making preparations to hold evaluation and identification to the people with disabilities in cooperation with the local authorities and international partners to respond to the people with disabilities’ concerns in the near future.
“Some activities are being run in municipalities aiming to see those problems with the community authority by doing identification and this information can be transmitted to the relevant parties, so that they can also contribute to those preoccupation in the future linking to the infrastructure issues, especially polling centers that can assure facilities and also the implementation of braille,” he added.
Other preparation is that STAE also is also working together with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) by offering training to the people with disabilities to know and understand the functions of braille.