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Every Vote Counts: How Are PwDs Going To Vote At GE15? 

Persons With Disabilities (PwDs) in Malaysia have been gruelling with issues of accessibility in their daily lives. From the lack of availability of safe spaces for those with autism in crowded malls to the absence of Bahasa Isyarat Malaysia (BIM) interpreters in government offices for the Deaf and ramps available for those who are wheelchair-bound.

Source: Unsplash

According to the Welfare department registered record, there are 619,732 PwD individuals[1] with various disabilities. Many more have not registered. In reality, it is estimated that 4.8million or 15% of Malaysians are PwDs[1]. Dishearteningly, the number of registered voters who are in the PwD group is missing from the record, likely due to the community’s lack of attendance in previous general elections. 

Even so, there has been a lack of progress in ensuring the community could fulfil its obligations, as the infrastructural barriers in everyday lives appear more apparent in the election season.

This is important to ensure that the rights of the disabled are guaranteed and given the same access and opportunities so that they are not excluded and marginalised in the democratic process. – Senator Datuk Ras Adiba Radzi, OKU Sentral President [2]

Source: Sinar Harian

Limited Access To Information

Many of us have been fed with breaking news or new updates on election processes through social media and news sites. At the same time, we could easily navigate the Electoral Commission’s (EC) official website or Suruhanjaya Pilihan Raya to find related information. But often, the information easily understood by us is indecipherable to a PwD individual.

The voting process doesn’t only take place on the voting day only. There’s the campaigning period where access to information is just as important, an overlooked element, especially for those with hearing, and visual impairment. They’re unable to access the candidate or the party’s information. – Ngeow Chow Ying, Acting Executive Director of Bersih[3]

The EC website itself is not as user-friendly to those with visual impairment.

The SPR website where everyone goes to find out their polling station and saluran (lane) is not very accessible to the PwD community. It is not in the format that is suited for the visually impaired. – Datin Anit Kaur Randhawa, member of OKU Rights Matter and co-chair of Harapan OKU Law Reform Group[4]

Most websites and information dispersed did not take into account the needs of those with hearing impairment. 

For example, there must be a sign language interpreter and the website must be built according to the Web Content Accessibility Guideline (WCAG) which is accepted at the international level so that it is easy for people with disabilities to browse the information on the website. – Ngeow Chow Ying, Acting Executive Director of Bersih[3]

Annie Ong, an individual with hearing impairment, also wished that political campaigns could be inclusive in their presentation method. 

Every time during campaigning, various manifestos were offered, but people like us who can only see, we couldn’t fully understand (the manifesto), and it has proven a huge challenge for us in voting for the right leader. – Annie Ong, a person with hearing impairment[5]

Without access to relevant information, it is unlikely for the PwD community to make informed choices. Often, their decision is influenced by family members. 

In fact, due to this lack of information on the candidates and manifesto, we are forced to vote for parties based on the decision of our families,” she said via sign language, which was then translated by an interpreter. – Annie Ong, a person with hearing impairment[5] 

At the same time, the design and layout of how information is presented also ignore the needs of those with intellectual disabilities. 

In terms of design, and the use of colours, it is necessary to use suitable colours to be understood by autistic individuals. The information needs to be simple, accurate and compact so that it can be understood by disabled people with learning problems. – Ngeow Chow Ying, Acting Executive Director of Bersih [3]

On Voting Day 

During Johor’s state election in 2022, Sanusi Idris, 58, brought his son, Mohamad Aidil Sanusi, 25, who is a PwD to the polling station.

It is estimated that 20-30% of Malaysians are caregivers, care partners, volunteers or professionals involved in the lives of PwD individuals[6]. Often, it is up to the caregiver or general public to assist a PwD individual in their care.

Source: Astro Awani

My son is eligible to vote, so it is my duty to take him to perform his responsibility as a Johorean. – Sanusi Idris, 58, a father to a PwD individual[7]

The EC, in their attempt to ensure voting is more inclusive, stated that priorities are given to vulnerable folks such as PwD, expectant mothers and senior citizens.

Putting all registered PwDs into saluran satu [lane one] and that’s it. That’s not enough. – Yana Karim, co-founder of BolehSpace[4]

Additionally, most polling stations are set up in public schools that require voters to climb flights of stairs or navigate uneven walkways.

For a physically disabled individual like me, among the biggest challenges are the limited facilities and access at polling centres. Mohd Rizal Mat Noor, a PwD individual[5]

Source: Mohd Sahar Misni/The Star     

There is sometimes a lack of understanding among the EC officers that disability is not only physical, making voting uncomfortable and sometimes even discriminatory. Mohd Shafiq Badarulhisham, an autistic individual, found that the needs of the autistic community are ignored by the officers in charge.

This has forced people like me to display our disabled card to take part in the voting process. There are also those who do not regard autism as a disability. – Mohd Shafiq Badarulhisham, an autistic individual[5]

There are other hurdles experienced by the PwD community, for example, the ballot paper doesn’t come with Braille writing that could assist the visually impaired in casting their votes. 

One of our biggest challenges is often the issue of spoiled votes. There are also those who vote for candidates who are not necessarily their choice, as they are merely following what their family members or guardians tell them. – Nadir Abdul Nasir, a PwD individual[5]

Source: The Vibes

Senator Datuk Ras Adiba, the chairman of OKU Sentral, called for a more disabled-friendly election with the provision that polling centres should be accessible to the community. 

Her recommendation also extends to the provision of mobile ramps and wheelchairs. It is also necessary for officers to go through Disability Equality Training (DET) in preparation for GE15. 

The ballot paper needs to be visually impaired-friendly with the provision of braille ballot paper, as has been implemented in Tamil Nadu, India, and the table provided for voting must have a suitable height for wheelchair users. – Senator Datuk Ras Adiba Radzi, OKU Sentral President [2]

It is evident that more needs to be done to accommodate the specific needs of the PwD voters. It is, however, alarming that the EC doesn’t have a database on PwD voters that may require extra attention to date. 

Thus, the accessibility of polling venues are hampered, leading to often a lower turnout by PwD voters. But, many have vouched that the system is improving each year and EC has been helpful to disabled persons.

Having voted throughout the years, I  felt that the voting process has been made gradually easier. – Senator Bathmavathi Krish­nan, the founding president of the Associa­tion of Women With Disabilities Malaysia[7]

How Will PwD Individuals Cast Their Vote?

However, if you are aware of a PwD voter keen to fulfil their obligation in the upcoming election, find out how you can help them.

When they arrive at the voting centre, they can directly see the police and ask to skip the queue. We want to help, as long as you let us know that you need assistance. Norlinah Jamman, Election Academy deputy director (Academic)[7]

According to Election Academy or Akademi Suruhanjaya Pilihan Raya, there are two methods for PwD individuals will be assisted to cast their votes[8]

Scenario 1:

  • A PwD individual can employ a trusted person (any Malaysian over the age of 21) that would help through the voting process. Through Saluran 1 or Lane 1, the trusted person will have to declare their identity by filling up a form witnessed by the polling station head.
  • The usual voting process will take place with the trusted person assisting the PwD individual to mark the ballot. The polling station head will ensure that the PwD individual is the one who puts the ballot paper into the box.

Scenario 2:

  • In the instance a PwD individual came to vote without a trusted person, the polling station head or the Ketua Tempat Mengundi (KTM) will be the one to assist the voter.
  • The KTM would read the name of the candidates on the ballot paper out loud. The voter’s choice will then be whispered to the KTM. The ballot paper will be marked by the polling station head.

Alternatively, you can also volunteer with non-governmental organisations assisting PwD individuals in Selangor to ensure more from the community will be able to cast their votes. They can be contacted at 013-3973386.

Explore our sources:

  1. M.F.Mohd Nor. (2022). PRU15: Berapakah nilai undi OKU Pada 19 November 2022. DagangNews. Link 
  2. The Sun Daily. (2022). GE15: EC should look at availability of facilities, services for the disabled to vote. Link 
  3. Astro Awani. (2022). Parti politik masih kurang kesedaran kongsi maklumat kempen, parti kepada OKU. Link 
  4. BFM. (2022). GE15: We Need To Do More To Empower Persons With Disabilities. Link 
  5. R.Nagarajah. (2022). Disabled individuals call for better facilities, voting process as GE15 looms. The Vibes. Link 
  6. Letter to the editor. (2022). GE15: Want our vote? Ensure the rights of persons with disabilities. Free Malaysia Today. Link 
  7. H.Zainal.(2018).Disabled persons get priority to vote, says Norlidah. The Star. Link
  8. Akademi Pilihan Raya. (2021). OKU boleh mengundi ke? bagaimana kaedah dan prosesnya? Jom kita dengarkan penerangan ringkas ini.. Link 

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