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Botswana Council for the Disabled (BCD) director, Moffat Louis has called for concerted efforts to ensure that people living with disabilities also participate in the electoral process without setbacks.
In an interview, Louis said while strides have been made, there remains room for improvement, as the challenges persist.
He appreciated the collaborative efforts between the organisation and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) aimed at assisting people with disabilities. Louis revealed that ongoing dialogue with the IEC have taken place prior to the voter registration process that began on January 5th.
He highlighted that while efforts were made to choose accessible locations for registration that are set up in central locations in villages and towns, Louis noted that persisting issues, particularly inadequate lavatory facilities designed primarily for individuals with disabilities.
Addressing the needs of individuals on the extreme end of the visually impaired, the director acknowledged IEC’s assistance in providing access to registration and voting in the upcoming general elections.
Despite similar efforts from the prior elections, Louis expressed concern about the voting process, where the commission’s appointed officers, are the ones who fill in forms on behalf of this group of visually impaired individuals. This dependency he complained raises issues of neutrality and capability, as visually impaired voters rely on the officers to accurately reflect their choices.
Louis emphasised the complexity of issues surrounding people with disabilities, noting that each challenge requires individualised solutions rather than a blanket approach. He called for continued efforts to address these complexities.
Meanwhile the director is also advocating for parliamentary representation of people with disabilities by members of their community. This, he believes, would empower individuals with disabilities to voice their concerns, rectify existing issues, and shape their own future trajectories.
Botswana has not yet ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN-CRPD), which is a global treaty that aims to protect and promote the rights of people with disabilities. However, the government of Botswana has taken some steps to develop a national disability policy, strategy and law, as well as to integrate disability issues into its development plans and census.
The government also prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in various sectors, such as education, employment, access and accommodation. Despite these efforts, people with disabilities in Botswana still face many challenges, such as social and economic exclusion, higher levels of poverty, restricted access to information, transportation and public spaces, and low awareness of their rights among themselves and the general public.
Botswana’s commitment to inclusivity is evident in collaborative efforts between the Botswana Council for the Disabled and the IEC. However, the BCD director stressed that challenges persist, highlighting the need for ongoing dialogue, improved accessibility, and dedicated representation to ensure that people with disabilities can actively participate in the democratic process and shape their own destinies.
Meanwhile, IEC spokesperson Osupile Maroba has indicated that following their meeting with the organisation sometime before the 2014 general elections efforts were made to ensure that the needs of people living with disability are accommodated during the electoral process.
He highlighted that a ballot paper template was made for voters with impaired vision, this he said is to ensure that they are able to vote without being assisted by anybody. However, Maroba indicated that they have realised that not all blind and visually impaired people are able to use braille therefore the challenge will always remain.
As for those who are wheelchair bound, Maroba indicated that when selecting polling stations, the commission always considers facilities that have ramps so as to accommodate them. He added that the current voter registration form has a section where people are asked to state their disability which may hinder them from voting so that plans can be made for them to be assisted to vote in confidence and comfortably.