WINDHOEK – Visually impaired Namibians are demanding that authorities introduce Braille-enabled electronic voting machines (EVMs) instead of their relying on helpers to vote.
They also claim that they face a lot of difficulty at polling booths, including not knowing whom their helper presses their vote for.
They are now demanding that they be provided with Braille-friendly ballot papers in order to cast their votes. Braille is defined as a tactile writing system used by people who are visually impaired.
For years now, the visually impaired have had to rely on polling staff to read out to them the list of candidates and their details. Alternatively, they have to rely on a trusted person to assist them in voting for their preferred candidate.
In an interview with New Era, National Federation of People with Disabilities in Namibia (NFPDN) acting secretary-general Elia Shapwa, said the handicapped have been suffering in many spheres of life since independence.
He said if visually impaired people could be given a chance to vote using a ballot paper with Braille, then it would be easy for them to exercise their democratic right.
“But if there is nothing they need to go with their trustable assistant when going to vote, so that they are able to vote for who they want or the political party they want,” he said.
He added that besides their challenges such as unemployment, poverty and little or no education, political parties have also not been fulfilling their electoral promises to them.
“They campaign for us to vote for them when elections are close but when they win, they forget us,” Shapwa lamented.
He said there is also a need for small chairs at the voting box for the dwarfs to stand on when voting. However, he thanked the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) for availing an official to represent them.
“We are thanking meme Josephina, the blind woman that works at ECN. She is our representative; she calls us for workshops when elections are close for training. She gives information about what disability people need. Both the blind and the deaf are trained,” he acknowledged.
Shapwa also wants to see more people living with disabilities employed during the election period, while calling for interpreters to assist the hearing impaired through sign language.
He requested ECN to consider employing people living with disabilities to work at all voting stations as this, he says, will give them equal rights to employment with all able-bodied people.
They also feel there is little participation for the hearing impaired in political debates, saying this has been made difficult by the lack of sign language interpreters.
“We feel left out. Plans are always done aimed at the hearing masses and leave the deaf out. Imagine an outcry with a deaf population of more than 20 000 across different regions, however not a single party realised there is a need to include the deaf in their programme. Be it ECN to involve us as voter educators or actions officers. There is simply nothing … we want our votes to be counted and enjoy the changes that come with it,” Namibian National Association of the Deaf’s (NNAD) director, Paul Nanyeni, said. For those in rural settings where radio is almost useless to them as they can’t hear, Nanyeni said these people are hard hit by lack of information.
He questioned whether those in authority really know that Namibia is home to hearing-impaired masses.
“There is simply nothing. With more technological advancement they can see to it that access to information by the deaf is promoted without reservations. This is not only about elections but all forms of information, be it access to safe drinking water, health and others, there should be a way to include the deaf in the planning,” Nanyeni noted.