All polling stations should be made accessible for the physically challenged prior to January’s elections, disability activists said yesterday during a protest outside the Central Election Commission in Taipei.
“Participating in elections and politics is a basic human right of every citizen of the Republic of China,” Thousand Barrier-Free Organizations for the Disabled convener Ken Liu (劉俊麟) said, criticizing the commission for failing to make voting booths accessible for the physically challenged.
Taiwan March Foundation head Chen Hui-min (陳惠敏) said the government is choosing to “cut corners,” citing expense and hassle as an excuse to ignore physically challenged people’s constitutional right to “participate in politics.”
“The right to participate in politics is not just another benefit, it is something that should have been there all along, but has never been realized,” she said.
Activists cited polling stations that were inaccessible to people with physical disabilities, as well as a lack of braille ballots for the blind, poor sign language interpretation and lack of provisions for the disabled living in institutions to vote in nearby booths.
“Every time I go to vote, it is extremely hard. After I have gone through the trouble of marking my ballot, sitting in a wheelchair, there is still a huge gap between me and the ballot box,” said Vincent Huang (黃智堅) of the Disabled Hope Project Association, adding that he did not want voting booth staff to place his ballot in the box for him because his privacy would be compromised.
Liu said that rules requiring ballots be cast at the site of one’s household registration further undercut the rights of the severely disabled, many of whom live in institutions far from their registered addresses.
“As we need societal support and the provision of disabled-friendly facilities if we are to maintain our dignity, making sure political figures are aware of our needs is extremely important,” said Chuang Chi-ming (莊棋銘), an employee of the Taipei Independent Living Association. “If we are stripped of our voting rights, which political figures would care about the problems we face?”
In a break with typical official practice, no commission officials emerged to accept a petition from the protesters.
Neither a spokesman for the commission nor the responsible department director could be reached for a response, despite repeated calls.
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