Pakistan’s First Election Day Accessibility Audit of Polling Stations in PP-20 By Pakistan Alliance for Inclusive Elections (PAIE)

Only 16% of the polling stations in PP-20 meet essential accessibility criteria

This report is issued by Pakistan Alliance for Inclusive Elections (PAIE) to share findings of Accessibility Audit of polling stations in PP-20. Accessibility audit is entirely based upon the internationally acclaimed essential accessibility criteria i.e. surface of the pathways is obstacle free, leveled access to the entrance, wide pathways and corridors , availability of ramps in polling stations, availability of light in polling stations, presence of protruding objects etc. The exercise is conducted on Election Day to make observations in real-time. A trained team of observers visited polling stations that were selected by a scientifically drawn sample.

Accessibility audit of PP-20 polling stations shows an alarming situation, as 84% of the sampled polling stations do not meet the essential accessibility criteria. This implies that persons with disabilities (PWDs), elderly and sick were not able to make it to 84% of the polling stations on January 9, 2018 by-election in Chakwal I.

The team started by observing the approach to the polling station building; statistics reveal that 43% polling stations do not have a firm and obstacle free passage leading to the building. The 39% buildings do not provide a level access to the entrance of polling station. Moreover, to worsen the situation, 79% of the polling stations not having level access also do not possess a ramp to facilitate wheel chair users in entering the polling station. In 66% cases protruding objects were reported outside the polling stations, causing obstacle on the way.

Although 82% of the entrance gates are far wide enough to clear minimum standard of 32”, but on Election Day other smaller gates remained open instead of these larger gates. Those smaller gates possess multiple problems; firstly the lesser opening width than minimum standard of 32”, secondly the iron bar at lower edge of the metal gates that is always thicker than maximum door threshold standard of 6mm, thirdly the lower edge bar of the gates is generally two to three inches higher than ground causing another obstacle. In this scenario, if the ECP staff does not open larger gates for PWDs then 100% polling stations naturally become inaccessible for them.

The survey further revealed that the interior building and outer entrance of 39% polling stations were not on same level and only 21% ramps were reported in set sample size, no other facilities exist to facilitate the movement of PWDs. This implies that even if the PWDs and elderly cross the main gate of the building 39% polling station buildings will still pose challenge to them and they will have to cross stairs to reach the polling area.

Availability of the light being, one of the significant conditions of associability criteria, it was reported that 93% of the polling stations possess exterior lighting arrangement, leaving only 7% sampled polling station entrance unlit at the time of low visibility. This was one of the only positive trend to be noticed in this entire exercise.

The study further reveals that 84% of the sampled polling stations do not meet all the essential accessibility criteria but 79% of these inaccessible polling stations can be easily modified and made completely accessible. This conversion would only require minute changes like construction of small ramps at entrance gate and in inner building, leveling of pathway in front of polling stations, removal of protruding objects from pathway and interior building, and finally by instructing the security staff to allow PWDs to pass through larger gate.

PAIE members have expressed the desire that ECP would would take this matter seriously and do the needful as general elections are approaching soon.