Myanmar may be struggling to organize systematic elections but the country has certainly done well when it comes to providing a method for the blind to vote.
U Aung Lwin Oo, a computer trainer at the School for the Blind in Kyeemyindaing township, Yangon Region, has designed a special template ballot paper to help visually impaired voters so that they can vote independently on election day instead of having to cast advance votes with a helper.
“As the saying goes, one vote from the heart is essential for the country and our choice is very important,” said U Aung Lwin Oo on his way out of the polling booth after casting his vote using the special template ballot paper.
He explained that he got the idea to design the ballot paper for the visually impaired after the Myanmar 2012 by-election. He received help from fellow teachers from the School for the Blind and the Union Election Commission (UEC).
The 2017 by-election is the second time that he is involved in elections. “I take a lot of pride in my work and I really put in a lot of effort this time round. This template ballot paper we are using now has better features than the ones used in the 2015 general elections,” U Aung Lwin Oo explained.
A polling station has been set up in the compound of the School for the Blind so that visually impaired voters can cast their votes. Also students from the School for the Blind will have no difficulties finding the polling station.
A rehearsal of the voting system was carried out for the visually impaired voters a day prior to Election Day. This was to familiarize them with the system and what paths to take. They rehearsed how to mark and stamp the ballot paper as well as the correct way to insert the papers into the ballot box. The exercise went a long way in helping to make the system run without any glitches on Election Day.
According to the township UEC there are 86 visually impaired voters registered at the Ma Kyee Tan Taung (East) quarter’s polling station.
Head of the quarter’s UEC, U Sein Mya, explained that the polling station in the school compound had cues for them such as a walking path with an extra carpet placed at the ballot box area.
The Myanmar Times spoke to several visually impaired students to find out how familiar they were about elections and the election process. This writer was amazed at how knowledgeable they were in the general democratic process as well as the technical details of a general election.
One student, Nyein Chan May, 19, told TheMyanmar Times that she was happy to be able to cast her vote independently.
“I always listen to the news and I decided who I should vote for based on the information I gathered,” she said. She added that this is her first experience in voting and said, “I think this is my chance of helping the country by voting.”
In the 2017 by-election, there were 10 polling stations that provided facilities for people with disabilities.
U Nay Lin Soe, counsellor from the Myanmar Independent Living Initiative, said that having a polling station that had facilities for disabled voters is an improvement for Myanmar considering the country has hardly any experience with elections.
“Not many countries in South East Asia have this system. Only Indonesia has it,” he said.
The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), the international electoral observation group, noted in their interim report that accessible polling stations for persons with disabilities are a major improvement for the UEC.
“Identifying disabled voters and distinguishing them in the voters list as early as possible in order to provide the UEC more time to prepare will also improve the process going forward,” ANFREL stated in its interim report.
Note From the Editor
This was first published in Myanmar Times, reprinted in News and issues on the disabled 7 April 2017, forwarded by Ivan Ho Tuck Choy. Thank you, Ivan.