PWD-sensitive census, PWD-friendly elections sought

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/16 Aug) – An advocate for the welfare of persons with disabilities (PWD) said Wednesday the Philippine government census is not PWD-sensitive and that is why it does not have the exact count of PWDs in the country today.

Emily Abrera, president of the Foundation for Communications Initiatives, which helped organize the Fully Abled Nation (FAN) day, said people who do the census never ask questions if there is a PWD in a family and they get to list one only when they notice a person with orthopedic disability in a wheelchair.

“But, a deaf person looks normal unless you engage him or her in a conversation,” she said, adding that very few of them were registered as PWD precisely because the census is never friendly.

Areas in Mindanao where people suffered from armed conflict, she continued, probably have more PWDs, as well as areas where there is high poverty level because more children were born with disabilities due to their mothers’ malnutrition.

She pointed out that questions to identify PWDs should be included in the census so that the country will have an exact data and will be able to address their needs appropriately, especially in the 2013 midterm elections.

“We hope to double the number of PWD voters from that of the previous elections because if the precincts are PWD friendly and personnel are better trained, they will come to vote,” she said.

Emil Tapnio, assistant program officer of the Asia Foundation, said only 435,000 PWDs voted in 2010 elections, or 2.3 percent of the total population of registered PWDs.

He cited that the three factors for the low turnout were accessibility, being ashamed of their condition and transportation.

He noted that through the FAN, which is a banner campaign to increase awareness of the Commission on Elections and local government units on the needs and concerns of PWDs, the COMELEC issued Resolution No. 9485.

Stipulated in the resolution are rules and regulations for voting of PWDs and for the establishment of accessible polling places for the May 13, 2013 national and local elections.

He said some of the requirements for PWDs during the elections include providing ramps, precincts at the ground floor, signages and special assistance.

He also mentioned that PWDs, disabled people’s organizations, and other non-government organizations raised the need for the COMELEC to update records, particularly on registration data that specify the kinds of assistance needed on election day.

Redendo Martinez, president of the Association of Differently Abled Persons and is currently employed at the office of the city mayor, said he is seeking accessibility to his voting precinct at Banganga Elementary School in Cabantian where there is a 150-meter steep portion of the road and a few stairs at the building’s threshold.

He also said that he wanted to include PWDs in absentee voting either with teachers or the military to mitigate the hassles PWDs get when voting along with the majority.

For her part, Carmen R. Zubiaga, acting executive director of the National Council on Disability Affairs, said she is calling on the COMELEC to provide a voting machine designed to fully allow the participation of blind people.

“I always practice my rights and I have been voting for years. I always demand for help during elections because the precincts are not accessible,” she said, noting that physical accessibility is a major problem mostly of PWDs like her who have orthopedic disabilities.

Further, Abrera said they are urging the COMELEC to involve PWDs in its election committees and to require candidates to make their campaign materials accessible to PWDs, such as using sign language.

Increasing the participation of PWDs in the 2013 elections is part of the three-year program of the Asia Foundation with support from the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID). (Lorie Ann A. Cascaro / MindaNews)