A National Democratic Institute (NDI) report in May 2023 explains that 15% of the population in Sierra Leone are Persons with Disabilities (PWDs). Politically, the “visibility” of PWDs and their “priorities” in government offices remains “low”.
It also says that despite the government’s efforts for PWD inclusion through the 2011 Persons with Disabilities Act, the situation hasn’t improved.
The National Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone has put in place laws that will safeguard the rights of PWDs in elections. They are:
PWDs have a right to register to vote as long as they are citizens of the country and should be at least 17 years and ten months old by registration.
They can also claim this right if they have not been convicted of a felony or have completed their punishments upon conviction.
Additionally, PWDs with legal guardians may be eligible to register, depending on whether the court took away their right to vote.
PWDs can also receive assistance to register from state agencies that provide services to people with disabilities or from any person they choose.
PWDs have a right to vote because the Constitution of Sierra Leone is binding upon all citizens without marginalisation.
According to the Electoral Commission Sierra Leone, every citizen, 18 and above, is eligible to vote.
Polling stations where PWDs intend to cast their votes must be on a ground floor accessible from the street. It should also have entrances and exits or doors through which PWDs can access the polling stations.
Stairs created to lead people to the polling rooms must have handrails and a non-slip ramp.
Also, barriers such as gravel, automatically closing gates, and doors without lever-type handles must be removed.
Voting systems and equipment with less complex features should be used during elections. Voting equipment requiring fewer vision, hearing, or limited manual skills should be readily provided.
PWDs should be aided with assisted voting gadgets to ease their election participation. Braille-textured ballot papers should be made available to those who are visually impaired.
Sign-language interpreters should readily be available at the polling stations, which would communicate voting procedures and guidelines to voters with sight and hearing challenges.
Additionally, if a PWD doesn’t understand the Krio language, a translator should be readily available to communicate the voting procedures to the person.
If a PWD cannot indicate their choice at the polling station, they can decide to bring someone to help them make their choices at the polling station.
He can choose a person who is not an election worker, two election workers on election day, or an election worker during early voting. However, a PWD cannot be assisted by their employer or an agent of a political party.
The person assisting the PWD must help them read the details of the ballot papers unless the PWD insists on having only part of it read. Also, the assistant must not try to influence the voter’s decision.
If a PWD requests that a polling officer assist them on the ballot paper, other polling officers and election observers would be made to watch the process. But, if they are assisted by a person who isn’t an official or observer, no one else may observe the process.
Electoral officers may bring the ballot papers to PWDs who cannot access the central polling station. PWDs may be allowed to tick on the ballot papers at the entrance of the polling station or in a car parked at the curbside.
When the voter has completed ticking on the ballot paper, they can hand the ballot papers back to the electoral officers, who will help to cast them into the ballot box. Alternatively, they may ask a companion to deposit the ballot paper in the ballot box.