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“It’s time young people living with disabilities are heard”
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“It’s time young people living with disabilities are heard”

Young people living with disabilities must demand systemic change to ensure that balloting stations are accessible for all, both now and in the future, writes Vibhu Sharma, 24, a Correspondent from Delhi in India. 

Elections, in any democracy, continues to be a source of heated debates. While political candidates make tall (sometime egregious) promises to establish credibility, citizens are often silent audiences.

Today’s youth have high expectations from their political leaders. They want to see action combating government corruption, fighting unemployment, and offering the benefits of the state to all. With many of today’s leaders falling short of this expected threshold, however, young people have decided that the best course of action is to abstain from casting a ballot.

Recently, however, the Commonwealth Youth Human Rights and Democracy Network (CYHRDN) was engaged in election observations in certain Commonwealth countries in Africa. As part of this process, they actively encouraged the youth to vote.

As a member of the Executive team of the CYHRDN, I watched closely as my colleagues encouraged young people to vote. The experience got me thinking more about what is an often overlooked aspect of youth participation: how to engage young people living with disabilities.

A recent article in The New York Times reported how visually impaired voters in the recent Rwandan election were provided a Braille paper on which to cast their vote. However, this is not always the case. In India, I have had the opportunity to bear witness to how elections are often inaccessible. Some places where ballots are cast are inaccessible to wheel chairs, for example. Other impediments I’ve encountered have ranged from no provisions for a Braille ballot paper, or tactile signage that would allow me to cast my ballot.

It is a pity, that governments and political candidates spend millions in political campaigns, but neglect to ensure making the polling booths are accessible for persons with disabilities. It is as if their vote doesn’t count. Election Commissions haven’t taken a step forward in this direction, and the so-called watchdogs of democracy have neglected in ensuring the inclusivity of elections.

Circumstances, however, can change.

The maxim from the UNCRPD, “Nothing about us without us” is a sacrament, that youth with disabilities must continuously keep in mind.  Ensuring that young people with disabilities vote on the election day is essential. Voting is a means for youth with disabilities to exercise their political agency in having their voices heard on local and national scales.

Young people with disabilities need to fight for their rights, and ensure that their needs are met. Accessible poling booths is just one piece of a much wider ask.

 

Reach me on Twitter: vibhusharma_11

photo credit: Jonathan Rashad via photopin (license)

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About me: I am passionate about working for and with people with disabilities, particularly visual impairment. I am proud that students with visual impairment benefit from my success convincing the Central Board of Secondary Education to conduct India’s high school exams for these students on computers with screen-readers.

I represent the status of persons with visual impairment at international and national conferences. I am Co-Chair of the Global Partnership for Children with Disabilities – Youth Council, UNICEF.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/

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