Malaysia held its 12th general election last March 8, 2008.
Malaysians from all walks of life, including Malaysians with disabilities made a beeline for the polling stations to exercise their right to vote. Some voters with disabilities shared their voting experiences withChallenges
My Voting Experience
Sia Siew Chin,
Executive Director, Beautiful Gate Foundation For The Disabled, Petaling Jaya:
I wheeled myself to SJKC Puay Chai to cast my vote, together with six of my wheelchair friends. There is a step before we can reach registration counter to check which room we should go to. This is not a big problem because SPR staff were there to help.
Another friend and I were arranged at ground floor, but four had to go to 1st floor.
At first, SPR staffs wanted to carry them up, but finally gave up because of their size and there were too many people.
They came up with another solution. They collected my friends’ Mykad and got the
ballot papers down for them from 1st floor. They “borrowed” another room on ground floor for them to mark down their choice, and helped take their ballot papers up to 1st floor and put into the box.
Blind voter Zahari Hashim:
I went to cast my vote at Brickfields. My 15-year-old son accompanied me.
After handing my Mykad to the officer, I was told that I am to cast my vote on the 2nd floor
One of the officers escorted us to the 2nd floor. After the officer at the counter announced my name and serial number, my son led me to the booth.
He then asked who I was choosing. He then deposited the ballot paper into the box. We then left for home. I thought my son will not be allowed to cast for me as he is not a registered voter yet. Luckily everything went smoothly.
Lecturer Naziaty Mohd Yaacob:
I went at 4 pm and there were only two ladies in front of me, so it was a quick one. I noticed elderly people came at that time too. They looked like they needed assistance, walking very slowly.
My ticket says “saluran 6” or line 6. I walked there to be told that line 6 was not
there “and probably at another polling station”. I had to walk back to the staff manning the computers for the correct line.
They should not confuse us. I have arthritis due to polio and have problems walking
with my crutches for too long.
I managed the 200 metres to and back to vote from the front gate (I was lucky to get a
parking spot there). I did not bring my wheelchair because I did not know the barriers ahead.
Janet Ng, mother of 24-yearold blind musician Colin Ng:
Colin was all excited that he was taking part in the election for the first time. We went there after his work so we could avoid the queue.
Since we went in the evening, it was a breeze getting into the balloting lot. However I did not find the system very logical.
My vote casting was at ground floor. I am sighted, able-bodied and not so old! However, my dear Colin had to climb upstairs to cast his vote. Isn’t that strange – my blind young man must climb the stairs to vote while I can easily do mine downstairs. Of course Colin had the advantage of a mother to help him but definitely the SPR needs to review their system by including the needs of various people with special needs.
Blind voter Hashim Ishak:
Here is my experience. When the polling station head said I could not bring my wife along to cross my ballot papers… I asked him, ‘why not?’ According to the EC rule, the disabled voter is allowed to have their spouse tocross the ballot paper for them.
He then allowed me and said he wanted to help me cross the ballot papers but I insisted that my wife should do it for me because I wanted to exercise my right with the knowledge that my trusted spouse has voted for me. When my wife finished
crossing the ballot paper. She guided me to the ballot boxes and I myself put in the ballot papers into the boxes, one for the parliament and the other is for the state assembly seat.
Moses Choo Siew Cheong,
Assistant executive director,
National Council for the Blind, Malaysia:
As for Brickfields, everything was done on ground level. I just voted. No problems at all. The people there were very friendly, even the police.
Associate Professor Dr Tiun Ling Ta,
President,Society of the Orthopaedically Handicapped, Malaysia, (POCAM)
Just back from voting at SMK Bukit Jambul, Pulau Pinang. No wheelchair provided. First you have to climb 4 flights of stairs to the higher ground and then climb the stairs to the first floor where the polling station is.
How can the disabled exercise their rights in this situation?
Freelance writer Bathmavathi Krishnan, 53,
I voted at La Salle Secondary School, Jalan Gasing, Petaling Jaya.
My first obstacle was crossing a small drain to reach the registration counter; and therewas a small step immediately after the drain with no grating.
Three people had to help me across it. The staff at the registration counter was helpful,
but I had to cross the drain again and go down a slope to reach my polling room located in another building block. There was a step preventing me from entering the classroom for my line and I had to be helped across this.
The school as a public building has to be accessible. There may be students or teachers with disabilities or who may become disabled temporarily due to sports or related accidents.
Improving the voting process for people with disabilities and the elderly:
Lecturer Naziaty Mohd Yaacob:
I think registration of voters should be linked to registration of disabled people, then automatically disabled voters will be identified. The voting process would naturally attract elderly people who usually stayed at home to come out and the Election Commission should train the staff to assist these voters and have wheelchairs in each polling station. It’s all about the information and communication system to allow disabled and elderly people access into the compound.
Some blind voters have voiced their opinion of privacy in making their choices. Colin
and I fully agree with them. Braille is a must in their paper.
Receptionist at Malaysian Association for the Blind hails
from Ipoh and has voted in two general elections. On March 8, he took the train up to Ipoh, cast his vote and took an express bus, returning to Kuala
Lumpur on the same day. As he was still able to make out the symbols on the ballot paper, he could mark his choice independently. However, he observed that blind Malaysians in B1 category or total blindness may require assistance in marking their choice. ‘Perhaps we should have ballot papers in braille to enable blind people to truly cast their votes privately and independently,” he suggested.
source: Challenges Magazine Vol 1, Issue 1 2008 (Challenges Magazine is a journalism skills training project for persons with disabilities started in 2007)