KINGSTON — A human rights group called on Jamaica to take fast action to ensure that disabled voters across the island can cast ballots in this week’s parliamentary elections.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement that Jamaica should relocate some voting centers, allow absentee ballots and move ballot boxes to the ground floor to make them accessible for citizens with disabilities, among other measures.
“Jamaica should not get away with simply saying that it’s too late now and will cost too much. While it may be difficult to do everything necessary before next week’s elections, it should do whatever it can to enable voters with disabilities to cast their ballots,” Rebecca Schleifer, an advocacy director for the rights group, said Dec. 22.
Like other countries in the region, Jamaica lacks the technology to let people with visual or physical impairments cast their ballots in secret, such as voting kiosks equipped with headphones or a touch pad. It does not offer braille ballots and most disabled voters have to rely on another person to vote.
Typically, a trusted relative helps but sometimes a disabled person has to rely on a complete stranger, which can lead to disenfranchisement.
Complicating matters, some polling centers install their ballot boxes on the second floor of the school or other public building where ballots are cast.
Elections Director Orrette Fisher said he could not comment on the statement by Human Rights Watch because he had not read it but he insisted that electoral authorities had been doing their best to make things easier for disabled voters ahead of the Dec. 29 elections.
“As far as possible, we try to locate voting on the ground floor,” Fisher said.
Gloria Goffe, a blind Jamaican who works as coordinator for the island’s Combined Disabilities Association, said the country has “some ways to go before we can say voting is truly accessible” for the more than 163,000 disabled Jamaicans.
At a recent meeting with her association, government officials pledged to build temporary ramps to voting centers, which are often set up in schools and other buildings without easy access for disabled people. It was not clear if any of the ramps were built.
The electoral office does not provide transportation for disabled voters, Goffe said. Often, candidates from the two main political factions will provide transportation to voting centers.
Due to the time constraints, Goffe said, she doubted any new initiatives for disabled people could be put in place before the vote.
“I know that efforts have been made to select as many accessible venues as possible but there are still areas of inaccessibility. Hopefully, by the next election there will be improvements,” Goffe said. “We hope for the day when we can vote independently.”