Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Why Civil Society Is Important to Democracy, Reason #68,000

When Lebanon took to the polls on June 7 of this year, the elections were hailed as free and fair and transparent, all qualities necessary for legitimacy. But there was one group who was denied the right to vote. Josie Ensor writes:
There are approximately 68,000 Lebanese voters registered as disabled with the Ministry of Social Affairs, but with most polling stations held in buildings unsuitable for wheelchairs many could not reach the polling booths.
In countries like the United States, civil society organizations advocating for the disabled, such as the American Association of People with Disabilities, have managed to eliminate many of the obstacles that disabled people once faced. While many people go to the polls, cast their votes, and return home, satisfied that they have made their contributions to the democratic process, there are so many things that can make a seemingly good election go bad. Having a polling station on the second floor of a building without an elevator, while it may go unnoticed to an able-bodied person, is effectively a denial of the right to vote to some people. And denying any person the right to vote makes for an unfair election.

A civil society organization called Lebanese Physically Handicapped Union wants to change that situation in Lebanon.
LPHU is a non-profit organization of people with physical disabilities that has been working on disability issues since 1981. This grassroots organization is national in scope and includes community branches in six areas of Lebanon (Beirut, Byblos, Bar Elias, Mashgara, Nabatieh and Saida). LPHU is a national, non-sectarian organization and involves people from different religious groups and with various forms of physical disability...There are two main fields of work of the organization: advocacy to raise awareness of the rights of people with disabilities in order to ensure their integration and raise equalization of opportunities; and community based development projects including physical rehabilitation, inclusive education and vocational rehabilitation.
LPHU is actively involved in the elections process and conducted a study of accessibility during the recent elections. The results were astounding:
Lebanese Physically Handicapped Union, sponsored by the International Foundation for Election Systems, conducted a study of the 1,741 polling stations in Lebanon and assessed them according to the ministry’s six accessibility criteria. The results revealed that only six polling stations – less that half of 1% - out of 1,741 satisfied all the accessibility criteria.
Next step: using the results of the study to implement laws requiring access for all voters.

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