This report is issued by Pakistan Alliance for Inclusive Elections (PAIE) to share findings of Accessibility Audit of polling stations in NA-154. The exercise is conducted before Election Day to gauge the opportunities available for PWDs to access polling stations on voting day. A trained team of observers visited polling stations that were selected by a scientifically drawn sample.
Accessibility audit of NA-154 polling stations shows distressing statistics as it appears that 73% of the sampled polling stations do not meet the essential accessibility criteria. This implies that persons with disabilities (PWDs), elderly and sick will not be able to make it to 73% of the polling stations on February 12, 2018 by-election in Lodhran I.
The team started by assessing the approach to the polling station building; statistics reveal that 17% polling stations do not have a firm and obstacle-free passage leading to the building. The 25% buildings do not provide a level access to the entrance of polling station and out of these, 92% buildings do not possess a ramp to facilitate wheelchair users in entering the polling stations. Observers also witnessed that in 23% cases protruding objects were reported outside the polling stations, causing obstacle on the way.
Entrance gates of all sampled polling stations are wider than the minimum standard of 32”, but as witnessed by credible and experienced auditors of PAIE, usually the smaller gates remain open on Election Day instead of these larger gates. The larger gates are intentionally closed for legitimate reasons i.e. security and to avoid overcrowding in the polling stations. but the smaller gates possess multiple problems; first, the lesser opening width than minimum standard of 32”, second, the iron bar at lower edge of the metal gates that is always thicker than maximum door threshold standard of 6mm, third, the lower edge bar of the gates is generally two to three inches higher than ground causing another obstacle. All these points make it difficult for PWDs and elderly to enter in polling stations thus making it inaccessible. If the staff does not open larger gates for PWDs on election day then 100% polling stations naturally become inaccessible for them. ECP should make the polling stations precisely more accessible and should be mindful of these minute hurdles.
The survey further revealed that the interior building and outer entrance of 65% polling stations were not on the same level and only 10% ramps were reported in set sample size, no other facilities exist to facilitate the movement of PWDs. This signifies that even if the PWDs and elderly cross the main gate of the building 65% polling station buildings will still pose the challenge and they will have to cross stairs to reach the polling area.
Availability of the light is one of the significant conditions of accessibility criteria, it was reported that only 17% of the polling stations possess exterior lighting arrangement, leaving 83% sampled polling station entrance unlit at the time of low visibility.
The study further reveals that a major chunk of 73% of the sampled polling stations does not meet all the essential accessibility criteria but 74% of these inaccessible polling stations can be easily modified and made completely accessible. This conversion would only require minute changes like the construction of small ramps at the entrance gate and in the inner building, leveling of the pathway in front of polling stations, removal of protruding objects from the pathway and interior building, and finally by instructing the security staff to allow PWDs to pass through larger gate.
PAIE members have expressed the desire that ECP would take steps to increase accessibility of polling stations and do the needful as general elections are approaching soon.
Pakistan Alliance for Inclusive Elections (PAIE) is a group of civil society organisations mainly comprising disabled persons’ organisations (DPOs). Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) hosts the secretariat of PAIE in Islamabad.
The accessibility audit is entirely based upon the internationally acclaimed essential accessibility criteria i.e. the surface of the pathways is obstacle free, leveled access to the entrance, wide pathways, and corridors, availability of ramps in polling stations, availability of light in polling stations, the presence of protruding objects etc.