94pc polling stations in Islamabad inaccessible for persons with disabilities

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Election 2018 is only two months away, ECP yet to wake from slumber

Zubair Qureshi

According to a survey conducted by Pakistan Alliance for Inclusive Elections (PAEI), 94pc of the polling stations are inaccessible to Persons with disabilities (PWDs) in one way or another. The results show that maximum polling stations do not meet one or more mandatory criteria but it also endorses that 71pc of such buildings could be easily made accessible with little alterations.
Such statistics have put policies of state and ECP for inclusiveness under question. Senior Programme Manager Centre for Peace & Development Initiative (CPDI), Raja Shoaib Akbar while sharing the findings of the survey revealed that Pakistan Alliance for Inclusive Elections (PAIE) conducted Accessibility Audit of polling stations in Islamabad. The purpose of this audit was to present reliable data before stakeholders and to generate debate on the concerns of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) about accessibility. For bringing PWDs in mainstream, polling stations must be usable by all persons with disabilities.
The findings reveal that 91pc of the sampled polling stations have at least 3ft wide pathways leading to the main gate, whereas 54pc of these approach pathways are not firm and obstacle free. Likewise, 67pc of the inner pathways from main gate to the polling area do not meet the criteria of 3ft width. Secondly, level access to building is another mandatory criterion; results declare that in 69% polling stations the pedestrian gates do not provide level access to the building. And of those without level access, 89% also don’t have low slope ramps.
The 65pc sampled polling stations in Islamabad do not meet the mandatory criterion of functional lighting at the gate. This may pose difficulties for partially blind people. In addition, display of election result outside the polling station also compels presence of light at the gate because results are often issued in the evening nearly or after the sunset.
The accessibility criteria also counts-in the entrance gate and inner doors of the polling station building to be at least (a) 32” wide and (b) the door threshold should not exceed 6mm or ¼ of an inch. Results unfolds that 24% and 50% of polling stations do not meet these two criteria respectively. The data presents an alarming picture where 81% inner buildings are not on same level to the entrance and 93% of such buildings do not have low slope ramps as an alternative of stairs to facilitate PWDs.
While explaining methodology, Akbar remarked that the accessibility audit was based upon the internationally acclaimed essential accessibility criteria i.e. (a)Obstacle / protruding object free, firm and 36” wide pathway leading to the entrance gate and from there to the voting area inside the building, (b) Level access to entrance or low slope ramps as an alternative of staircase, (c) Exterior building lighting (d) Exterior and interior doors opening width of at least 32” and maximum door threshold of 6mm (e)Voting area / inner building on same level as the entrance or low slope ramps as an alternative of staircase A trained team of PAIE observers visited polling stations enlisted in GE 2013 and picked a scientifically drawn sample. 55 polling stations spread over length and breadth of the district were taken as sample, he added.
Akbar opined that according to latest data available at Pakistan Bureau of Statistics population of PWDs in Pakistan is 3.3 million; though, official numbers on disability have always been contested by the disability rights activists. Inclusion of PWDs in electoral process and accessibility of polling stations is vital among other procedural and administrative measures. Keeping in view this problem the election commission of Pakistan (ECP) made accessibility of polling stations part of its Second Five-Year Strategic Plan (goal 9) of 2014-18. ECP could do much and accessibility is still looming over our heads, he added. PAIE auditors have recommended stakeholders to improve accessibility of polling stations. Firstly, ECP should immediately issue guidelines for accessibility of polling stations to make the general elections 2018 more inclusive. Secondly, government agencies should modify the existing infrastructure to meet minimum criteria of accessibility before elections.

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