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Disabled voters left behind in Kingdom

A disabled woman is helped by a volunteer to cast her vote during the national Commune elections earlier this month. Cambodian Disabled People's Organization
People help a disabled man enter a polling station that lacks a wheelchair ramp during this month’s commune elections. Cambodian Disabled People's Organization

Disabled voters left behind in Kingdom

People with disabilities still lack access to polling stations, research from a local rights organisation has found.

After monitoring 80 polling stations across the country during the commune elections on June 4, the Cambodian Disabled People’s Organization (CDPO) wrote that they “found some issues that people with disabilities could not claim their full rights for political participation”.

These issues included voters not being able to access polling stations without assistance due to obstacles like stairs or gravel. Additionally, voter lists or ballot boxes placed too high created difficulties for voters in wheelchairs.

Some polling station spaces, meanwhile, were too narrow for wheelchairs, and blind people could often not vote secretly because of a lack of awareness among poll workers that ballots with braille are available.

The report, obtained by The Post this week, will be publicised in a shorter form later this month, according to CDPO Advocacy Officer Mak Monika.

The lack of voting accessibility for the disabled has been criticised by NGOs for years. Yoeung Rithy, Handicap International deputy operation coordinator, conducted research into the issue in 2013 and said that little has changed. “The [voter] registration process is really good now, but the lack of physical access to polling stations is still the same,” he said.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A disabled woman is helped by a volunteer to cast her vote during the national Commune elections earlier this month. Cambodian Disabled People's Organization

He argued that the main problem is that public buildings often fall short on accessibility. Moreover, staff lack training on how to accommodate people with disabilities. “That’s why the polling stations need to train . . . so people with visual impairments and blind people can vote,” he said.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and the government’s Disability Action Council could not be reached yesterday, but Rithy said DAC was cooperating with Handicap International to draft accessibility guidelines. The National Election Committee could not be reached.

One of those who couldn’t vote is Yoeun Sot, 19, from Svay Rieng. She said she was told that she could not register her name because she is blind.

“I couldn’t vote, because when the village chief told people to register, I asked him: ‘Can I vote?’, but he replied: ‘You cannot because voting is confidential, and you don’t know how to tick [the box], and as there is no braille document it’s difficult,’” she said.

“I don’t think he discriminated against me – he just doesn’t know what to do. Now I feel regret, because I didn’t vote.”

Additional reporting by Kong Meta

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