By MIKHA FLORES
WHEN persons with disabilities (PWD) go out and vote on May 13, they can move around with more ease from drop off points to classrooms where they will cast their vote.
This is because the Department of Public Works and Highways will be building or enhancing some structures in and around selected school buildings to make voting precincts more PWD-accessible. Work is expected to commence shortly and will be completed before the Commission on Elections (Comelec) ban on public works construction and spending takes effect on March 29, 2013.
The renovations followed an audit done by government agencies and nongovernmental organizations which teamed up to audit 32 out of 60 voting centers for accessibility late last year.
Retired Elections Commissioner Rene Sarmiento earlier said that only 53 percent of voting centers were audited because of time constraints and limited budget.
As a result of the audit, 10 voting centers in the National Capital Region and 50 outside NCR were identified as needing some enhancement in order for them to be PWD-accessible. The audit was based on the number of PWD registered voters in those areas, the Comelec said.
The poll body, however, failed to assign a school for PWD voters in Regions 5 (Bicol), 9 (Zamboanga Peninsula), 10 (Northern Mindanao) and the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. The Bicol Region posted the third highest number of PWD voters with 7,720, based on the recent registration.
Region 7 (Central Visayas) had the highest number of PWD registrants with 11,602. Region IV-A (Calabarzon) placed second with 8,187.
To further assist PWD voters, the Comelec will also create accessible polling places (APP) in the ground floor of school buildings on polling day and will assign special inspectors and support staff to help out.
Under Resolution 9485, the current precinct assignment of the PWD voters will be retained but the classroom where they will vote will be assigned at the ground floor with enough space to accommodate more than 10 PWD voters at a time. Those who were unable to indicate their disabilities during the registration for PWDs will be given an express lane and assistor in their regular precincts.
A Special Board of Election Inspectors for PWDs and a support staff will also be assigned for the APPs. The support staff will retrieve the ballots of PWD voters from their regular precincts to the APPs and will take the ballots back to their regular precincts after they have voted.
The Comelec has been working with the inter-agency and NGO network on Empowering Persons with Disabilities, which initiated Project EASE (Ensuring Accessibility of Schools on Elections) to make schools PWD-friendly.
The audit covered four sequences in the mobility of PWDs during election: approaching the building, entering the building, moving inside and around using its facilities and getting out of the building. The buildings must also comply with the basic requirements of accessibility like ramps, washrooms and toilets, parking and drop-off points, non-skid flooring and signage.
PWD organizations provided inputs while local government units implemented their recommendations. The National Council on Disability Affairs and the United Architects of the Philippines provided technical input for the audit.
The participating malls:
SM North Edsa: Quezon City- District 1 only
SM Megamall: Mandaluyong- All districts
SM Southmall: Las Pinas- All districts
SM Manila: Manila- District 5 only