WITH general and regional elections just 17 days away, the Guyana Council of Organisations for Persons with Disabilities (GCOPD) wants those who are differently-abled in society, to have a hassle-free and independent voting experience come March 2.
It is for this reason that the disability body launched a voters education campaign, on Thursday, that will ensure that persons with disabilities understand the voting process and what their rights as voters are.
GCOPD Programme Coordinator, Ganesh Singh, who chaired the proceedings at the National Library in Georgetown, offered that while the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) did a good job at ensuring that information is in the public, the disability community wants to reinforce necessary information and give persons with disabilities information that is even more practical.
Other workshops will be implemented over the next two weeks in various Regions across the country, and GCOPD is currently in the process of developing audio clips and a brochure to forward to GECOM so that their elections day staff can be fully aware of how to interact with persons with disabilities.
“The culture in Guyana is not always open to persons with disabilities and can be negative at times. We don’t want to have those situations on elections day,” Singh commented, adding, “All we want is to live independent lives, and that is why we have the Guyana Persons with Disabilities Act which was signed into law in 2010.”
He thanked the International Republican Institute for doing its part to ensure that the campaign is implemented.
United States Ambassador to Guyana, Sarah Ann-Lynch, said her embassy is honoured to have the council as a key partner in pursuing shared objectives in supporting free and fair elections in Guyana. “I hope the campaign will empower all voters to confront and overcome challenges many take for granted on Election Day,” she offered.
Chairman of GECOM, Justice Claudette Singh, noted that the purpose of voters’ education is to disseminate balanced and objective information on what citizens need to know in order to exercise their right to vote.
Presently, she noted that there is no provision in the legislation for persons with disabilities to vote with braille. “Representation of the People Act Chapter 103 does not make provision to enable a person who is blind or physically incapacitated to vote independently,” she said, noting that it instead confers a right to vote by proxy.
“This method of voting does not auger well for persons with disabilities, since there is a concern that they cannot guarantee that the individual would vote in conformity with the instruction of the visually-impaired electors. While GECOM is sympathetic to these complaints, there is need to have the necessary legislation implemented.”
She added: “I will urge the commission as soon as the Law Reform Commission is established, to address your concerns so that the enabling legislation can be passed to give effect to your needs.”