Islamabad: As high as 73% polling stations in NA-243 Karachi east II are inaccessible to Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) in one way or other, reveals an accessibility audit conducted by the Pakistan Alliance for Inclusive Elections (PAIE).
The percentage is worrying in many aspects, especially when the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had made accessibility of polling stations part of its five-year strategic plan to be implemented prior to general elections 2018. PAIE has demanded of ECP to take immediate steps towards making all the polling stations accessible for PWDs.
The accessibility audit was conducted on a sample of 30 polling stations of the constituency. Results depict that maximum polling stations fail to meet one or more mandatory criteria but it also endorses that 67% of such buildings could be easily made accessible with little alterations.
Fatimah Shah, Senior Advocacy Officer at Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives, shared that the purpose of the PAIE audit was to present reliable data to stakeholders regarding accessibility in elections and to generate debate on the concerns of PWDs. This issue becomes more important in a scenario where ECP could not resolve accessibility problem before general elections 2018 and now by-elections are approaching with 73% polling stations still inaccessible for PWDs in an urban constituency of Pakistan’s largest city.
Sharing details, Senior Programme Manager at CPDI Raja Shoaib Akbar stated that 30% polling stations did not have a firm and obstacle-free passage leading to the building; 67% buildings did not provide a level access to the entrance of polling station; and 80% of the polling stations not having level access also did not possess a ramp to facilitate wheel chair users in entering the polling station. In 27% cases, protruding objects outside the polling stations pose a challenge on the way, he added.
Although 73% of the entrance gates are wide enough to comply with minimum standard of 32”, but on Election Day pedestrian gates are likely to remain open instead of vehicle gates. Those smaller pedestrian gates possess several problems. ECP should direct its staff to facilitate PWDs by opening the larger gates for them.
The survey further reveals that the interior building and outer entrance of 50% polling stations were not on same level. No low slope ramps or other facilities were observed at these building for facilitation of PWDs. Only 57% of the polling stations possess exterior lighting arrangement, leaving 43% sampled polling stations entrance in dark at the time of closing of polling stations and display of result by the presiding office.