More than half of Zimbabwe’s 9 735 polling stations are inaccessible to people with disabilities, particularly wheelchair users and others with a variety of mobility impairments, thus effectively sidelining people with disabilities from exercising their constitutional right to vote in the country’s elections.
An IFES-sponsored polling station assessment of a total of 1 631 polling stations in the Harare Metropolitan province, Bulawayo Metropolitan Province, Umguza District, Midlands, Mashonaland West and Manicaland, and which ran from October 2012 to June 2013 to determine the accessibility of polling stations to people with disabilities , revealed the following findings:
- Of the 1 631 polling stations assessed,862 polling stations, comprising 52.85% of the polling stations surveyed, are not accessible to people with disabilities requiring the construction of ramps to make them accessible to people with disabilities.
- 1030 polling stations, comprising 63.15%.of the polling stations assessed, do not have disability accessible toilets, and require modifications and ramps in order for these toilets to be accessible to people with disabilities, especially wheelchair users, who use these toilets not only on polling days but on regular visits to the school as well. Of note, Blair toilets, commonly used in rural schools, have entrance dimensions which are 65cm and less, and are not accessible to wheelchair users, and also have no toilet seats.
- Of the 1631 polling stations assessed, 159 polling stations, comprising 9.75% of the polling stations, have inaccessible pathways, and require levelling of the pathways, clearing of stones and obstacles, and at times paving to render them accessible to people with disabilities, especially wheelchair users.
- Of the 1631 polling stations assessed, 67 polling stations, comprising 4.11% of the polling stations, have inadequate lighting, posing problems for those with low vision, and lighting needs to be improved by the addition of additional windows and artificial lighting.
- All the polling stations under scrutiny have no reserved parking bays for people with disabilities, as wheelchair users require a parking bay that is one and a half times the width of conventional parking bays, to accommodate both the wheelchair and the vehicle. This is more of an issue in urban set ups than in rural ones.
Clearly, given these multifaceted barriers which are compounded by attitudinal and legislative barriers, the arena of electoral participation is the most daunting for people with disabilities, who suffer from a lack of access to fundamental freedoms and rights that other people in society take for granted across the entire, social, economic, political and cultural spectrum.
For a detailed view of the accessibility characteristics of the polling stations by province, district, constituency and ward, please visit the following link: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AsrbOyWtxxX5dG9IXzFnZ1RiMEhVTXZqNVNSZ28zZXc#gid=0. For effective results, please paste this link into the address bar.