I am honored to be here for this launch and to address, once again this week, the members of the Guyana Council of Organizations for Persons with Disabilities. I want to especially thank your chairman, Mr. Cecil Morris, your program coordinator, Mr. Ganesh Singh, and all the members of the Council who apparently are having a busy week this week! And a busy election season as you fittingly promote voting rights for persons with disabilities.
I appreciate the Council’s multi-faceted approach to fulfilling its mission, and your tireless, inspired work advocating on behalf of the rights and physical accessibility for persons with disabilities. As I said earlier this week, the U.S. Embassy is honored to have this Council as a key partner in pursuing in our shared objectives of supporting free and fair elections in Guyana.
Thank you, Justice Singh, for your presence here today, for your attention to the fundamental issues raised here, and for GECOM’s own work educating voters about how to exercise their rights.
I also thank Mr. David Hamilton of the International Republican Institute, for his involvement and the Institute’s through USAID funding for this important education campaign.
So, we are here to launch a voter education campaign for persons with disabilities. This initiative will provide voters with essential information about their voting rights and basic procedures of voting.
So, you might ask – with all the information being disseminated to voters, why is a separate voter education campaign for persons with disabilities necessary? The reason illustrates a wider problem. The medium matters. Members of the Council believe that GECOM’s own extensive public relations campaign to the general public simply isn’t able to reach some persons with disabilities. Just as voting rights are unworkable without access, accommodations are ineffective if many of those who would benefit are unaware.
Most of all, I hope the campaign will empower voters to confront and overcome challenges many take for granted on election day: that all voters will be assured physical access to their assigned place of voting, and that they will be able to vote privately and independently.
Imagine for a moment the dread of not knowing the answer to these two simple questions on election day.
- Will I be able to access my polling station?
- Will I be able to vote on my own?
Many of those in this room and thousands more in Guyana will ask those questions on March 2nd. Many may be deterred from voting because they won’t know the answers.
I am here to reinforce the view that these are not trivial questions or marginal concerns simply because they do not affect the majority of persons without disabilities. The United States stands with the Council and all those asking for greater assurance of a full and equal opportunity to vote for persons with disabilities.
I also commend the Council on its earlier work developing voter access recommendations for GECOM. I will restate those requests today.
Here goes – These are some specific measures that can make voting more accessible
- Options for blind or visually impaired Guyanese to vote privately and independently,
- Special instructions for voters who are deaf or hard-of-hearing,
- Ramps and slip resistant surfaces for the physically impaired.
I affirm the Council’s goal that more persons with disabilities can and should be provided access to vote privately and independently. I encourage the members to keep pressing for the reforms needed to make that a reality. With your continued leadership, I believe we will see all these changes implemented in the near future.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak and support this important effort.