Evidently, there is an absence of reliable data and tailor-made digital tools to aid persons with disabilities (PWDs) in exercising their franchise which poses a threat to inclusive participation and infringes on their rights. The second in Penplusbytes’ webinar series therefore focused on mapping out tech solutions to ensure inclusive PWD participation in Ghana’s election 2020.
A speaker, Mr. Andrew A. Bayor, a technology systems design researcher at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia opened the conversation by indicating that in spite of the various categories of PWDs, Ghana focuses only on the physically disabled during election and the country has not made any conscious effort to collect data on the other forms of disability such as persons with intellectual disability who equally have the right to vote during elections.
Mr. Bayor who is currently researching on designing accessible technologies in support of skills development for persons with intellectual disability emphasised that “we need to have credible data to know the category of people involved in the elections process, that done, we can then think of ways to leverage technology in ways that support the different groups of disability that the data has identified”.
Mr. Kwami Ahiabenu, a tech expert also a speaker, alluded that Ghana is a country where evidence by way of data is a general issue and not only with our elections. He proposed that Ghana creates an economic database using online systems by getting reliable, dynamic and current data from the various PWD groups.
“The issue about data is very critical; without data, we do not have evidence about the nature of the problem we want to solve,” he added.
Speaking on the Electoral Commission’s (EC) role, the Head of the Gender, Youth and Disability Department of the Commission, Mrs Abigail Nutator said the EC currently collects data on the visually impaired to enable the Commission provide them with tactile jackets which allows them to independently vote during elections. Data on persons with amputated arms or fingers is also available since the biometric voting system requires voters to use their fingers for verification during elections.
This was however described as inadequate by most participants as it disenfranchises other PWDs such as persons with mental impairment, the deaf, and albinos. The Electoral Commission acknowledged this shortfall but the EC is not mandated by law to make significant changes such as conducting special voting for PWDs.
Mrs. Nutator also urged PWDs to have a self-help attitude of gathering data on themselves which they can then aid the EC in making the elections inclusive for all PWDs.
Crowd-sourcing is one of the popular ways of collecting data where an individual or institution feeds into a system but this must be done effectively by paying attention to ownership.
Paying attention to standards is also key to getting reliable data. Thus, data collection on PWDs should be done in a manner that does not tend to stigmatise them, else there would be an apathy to disclose detailed information.
The ongoing voters’ registration exercise is an opportunity for the EC to collect data on PWDs who participate. Data collection must also be institutionalised so it becomes an ongoing process that reflects changes.
The Former Executive Secretary of the National Council of Persons with Disability Mr. Max Vardon said that if the EC uses a polling centre that is not accessible to PWDs, then it is in breach of the legal requirement of Act 715. He also called on the EC to mount bill boards that indicate that PWDs and older persons should be given preferential treatment during elections as well as provide interpreters at polling centres for the deaf.
The Executive Director of Penplusbytes, Madam Juliet Amoah who moderated the one and half hour session urged all to make time to join the weekly webinar series adding “we will be looking at issues around disabilities, general participation, misinformation and all the issues that hinder a credible election”.