Ganesh Singh; Coordinator, Guyana Council of Organisations for Persons With Disabilities
Come the next general and regional elections, the disability community in Guyana would like to be in a better position to cast their ballots independently.
Prior to the March 2, 2020 elections, the community was lobbying for persons who are blind to be able to use a template – that is, a piece of cardboard cut in a manner that it can be placed over the ballot paper so that a blind person could be guided where to mark their ‘X’.
Template voting would therefore help such individuals to vote independently, as opposed to having someone else assist them in the process.
“So it is like a template or a guide, as we call it in the disability community, that has holes that would be on top of the ballot paper, and you will be able to mark your ‘X’ independently,” Ganesh Singh told this publication. Singh is the Programme Coordinator of the Guyana Council of Organisations for Persons with Disabilities (GCOPD).
“However, we were told that there is the need for legislative changes in order for that (template voting) to be facilitated, even though it was done in 2015. So that is something we definitely want to see changed. Whenever there is electoral reform, we must have that included. We do not want to get rid of proxy voting or accompanied voting, because not everyone would want to vote with a template but at least, let that option be there,” he added.
A second thing that the community has been asking for is the need for polling stations to be accessible for persons who use wheelchairs. These individuals sometimes encounter great difficulties accessing polling stations because of the unavailability of ramps.
“So we are asking for lower floors wherever possible, or that they put portable ramps,” Singh said.
A third option for those in the disability community could be the use of curbside voting. This is where the officials, along with the scrutineers, will go downstairs at a flat level and take with them all the necessary equipment, so that a wheelchair user can be able to vote in a portable booth where it is accessible.
According to Singh, the disability community would be working hard to implement various aspects of the Guyana Disability Act, which he said will benefit the approximately 49,000 persons living with disabilities in the country. He said the community also wants to be able to benefit from a disability grant, as opposed to the usual public assistance, which just offers them $9,000 a month. This amount, he said, is not enough to live on.