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Visually impaired voters plead for braille ballots

FILE PHOTO: Braille ballots used in Rwanda

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Voters with visual disabilities have asked the government to develop braille-enabled ballot papers to ensure that they enjoy similar rights as others in the forthcoming 2021 general polls.

Braille is a system that uses raised dots, to form a coded reading language for visually impaired persons. The raised dots in Braille, represent the letters of the alphabet. It also contains equivalents for punctuation marks and provides symbols to show letter groupings.

Teddy Luwa, the chairperson Gulu women disability union – GWDU says that the provision of Braille ballot papers in the 2021 general elections will guarantee inclusion of visually impaired persons in the electoral process.

Luwa noted that over the years, that category of people has been left out, while others were only directed to vote for specific candidates in the guise of being helped.  She said that the current arrangement requires a guide who holds the same political opinion as the voter and is therefore subject to manipulation.

Gulu district Councilor for persons with disabilities Denis Ocen Lakwonyero told URN that braille ballots will give them ultimate voting rights that have been suffocated over the years.

Lakwonyero said that the Electoral Commission – EC attempted to provide Braille ballot papers to the blind, prior to the 2016 General Election, but the project flopped under unclear circumstances.

Abraham Okello, another visually impaired person, and resident of Highland Sub Ward, Laroo Division Gulu Municipality says that although he voted through a guide in the 2016 elections, he is still sceptical if the vote truly went to his candidate of choice.

Benson Obete, an electoral official in Gulu district says that introducing braille ballots is the desired intervention for visually impaired voters in the country although it is an expensive undertaking. Obete notes that braille use may be hindered by illiteracy.

Statistics from the Health Management System indicate that an estimated 300,000 to 350,000 people in Uganda are blind, and more than 1.2 million are visually impaired. The number goes up by 34,000 annually, due to eye infection or cataracts.

The right to vote is one of the basic and fundamental political human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and other specific thematic UN conventions.

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