, NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 20 – The Interim Independent Electoral Commission is calling on all persons with disabilities aged 18 and above to exercise their civic right by registering themselves as voters to participate in the upcoming referendum.
IIEC Chief Executive Officer James Oswago on Tuesday said handicapped persons constitute about 6.5 million of the country’s populace and that they should use this number to influence key government decisions.
Mr Oswago who pointed out that there were 15 more days to go before the closure of voter registration also asked guardians of those with physical and mental impairments to help them register on time.
“There are about 3.6 million people with mental disabilities but what do you do with that number? Do you just sit at home? How do you make the world realise that you are there? The only way for you to do that is to be a contributor in the major decision making processes in your country. Huu ni wakati wako,” he said.
Speaking at a function to mark the symbolic registration of those with intellectual disabilities at the Kenya Society for the Mentally Handicapped (KSMH) headquarters in Westlands, Mr Oswago added that the IIEC had registered over 6.9 million voters so far.
He said that the electoral body would meet and surpass its target of registering 10 million voters come May (when the voter registration time span expires) if disabled persons registered on time.
“We are sure that with your support we are going to exceed the figure that we had initially set and register even more. But as we do that let us make sure that at least a half of those with disabilities are registered,” he said.
The IIEC boss further said polling stations had been equipped to accommodate those with various handicaps and that officials at the polling centers would also be adequately sensitised to deal with the disabled. He said that ramps had been created to help those who required walking aids.
“Those with disabilities will not have to queue and we will have support at two levels; within the structures of a polling station to facilitate their access but also support within the center itself in order for them to exercise their discretion. This time we are preparing ourselves in a much larger extent so that nearly all our polling stations are well prepared,” he said.
Mr Oswago also added that a polling station had been set up at the KSMH head office to make it even easier for those with disabilities to register. He said that this was aimed at encouraging the disabled to register conveniently.
“A registration center has been set up here from Muguga Green primary school. What we have done is to bring that (polling station) to you because you are special people. Otherwise we don’t do that; even the president and the Prime Minister go to register where the registration center is. You are the only ones we have exempted,” he said.
Also present at the awareness campaign was KSMH CEO Edah Maina who called on the IIEC registration officials to put up with those with disabilities. She said they should be fair and tolerant while dealing with all persons with disabilities and not turn them away. Ms Maina noted that in the last election KSMH accredited 664 human leaders who participated in the individualized voter education and helped persons with intellectual impairments vote.
“In 2007, 664 persons with mental disabilities were helped on a personal basis and managed to register as voters. Registering voters with intellectual disabilities is one thing but ensuring that their technical supports are well entrenched in the electoral process is another fundamental issue,” she said.
Others who were present were Emeritus Nding’i Mwana A’ Nzeki; KSMH goodwill ambassador Zipporah Kittony, Disabled Persons Association Chair David Wanjama, IIEC’s Commissioner Yusuf Nzibo and Hindu Council of Africa President Shree Muljibhai Pindolia. They all made calls to those with disabilities to participate in the country’s historical moment.