By EUGENE ADIONG
BACOLOD City — Polling precincts should be made more accessible to people with disabilities (PWDs) and senior citizens, Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Grace Padaca said.
Padaca, who visited this city on Saturday, said she is hopeful that the Department of Education and the Department of Public Works and Highways would be more compliant with Batas Pambansa 344 or the Accessibility Law.
The law provides mechanisms to enhance the mobility of disabled persons by requiring certain buildings, institutions, establishments and public utilities to install facilities and other devices.
Padaca said that, based on the accessibility audit of the human rights group Upholding Life and Nature (ULAN) during last year’s elections, many schools have polling areas that are not accessible to PWDs and senior citizens.
ULAN conducted the accessibility audit in 17 municipalities, one for every region.
“While there were precincts at the ground floors of schools, they can be accessed by taking two to three (stair) steps,” she said.
ULAN also found out that while two of every three surveyed schools had polling places at the ground floors, only half of these had paved pathways.
Only one in four had ramps for wheelchair users, and these were not always sturdy; there were cases where makeshift ramps were made of plywood, it said.
Nine out of 10 voting centers were found to be accessible to commuters, Ronaldo Gutierrez, ULAN executive director, said.
ULAN found that PWDs with hearing and speech impairments did not get enough assistance, and a whopping 77 percent of polling centers had no sign language interpreters during the elections.
The human rights group recommended that election inspectors be trained on basic sign language.
Also, the study said six in 10 schools did not have sufficient signage on assisting PWDs.
Padaca, chair of the Comelec committee on PWDs and senior citizens, said this could be because school buildings in Mindanao were built much more recently than those in Luzon and Visayas.
Comelec is also eyeing satellite registrations and the use of malls as polling places for PWDs in future elections.
Padaca also noted that, unlike in normal polling centers, assistors would not be given the chance to vote alongside their PWD relatives at the mall.
“Give them the choice. That’s why there’s a question in the registration form asking if you’d like to vote in an APP (accessible polling place),” she said./PN