Undeterred by disability: Helping the hearing-impaired take part in the polls

Jun 5, 2017

In order to ensure persons with hearing impairment were not left behind in asserting their political and electoral rights during the elections, the Election Commission Nepal, with the support of UNDP’s Election Support Project, has been reaching out to them through trainings geared to brief them about the voting process and to motivate them to be part of the democratic exercise

Krishna Gajurel had always dreamt of putting his concerns to political leaders and government decision-makers, but had been unable to do so, one of the reasons being the hearing impediment he suffers. This year, however, he has become far more optimistic about actively asserting his political rights, and even participated in the recent local-level elections as a first-time voter.

“I have voted for the candidates of my choice,” he said in sign language, smiling. “Until a decade ago, it was very difficult to imaging that a deaf person could also vote in an election. But this time around, it was made possible thanks to special trainings that were organized for persons with physical disabilities that made us aware of our political rights and encouraged us to take part in this important democratic exercise.”

Besides participating in the election as a voter, he also taught and trained other people with hearing disabilities on their political and electoral rights.

It is a bitter reality of Nepal that people with hearing impairment, among those with other forms of disability, are deprived of the opportunity to cast their ballots, owing mainly to lack of access to information. And so, in an effort to address this gap, the Election Commission of Nepal (ECN) and UNDP’s Electoral Support Project (ESP) had partnered with the National Federation of the Deaf Nepal (NDFN) to organize a national seminar on voter education for people with hearing impairment on 3 May this year. The programme saw the participation of 31 leaders representing various associations of the hearing-impaired from all over the country.

“As the recently conducted local elections comprised the first electoral exercise under the new federal structure in Nepal, there were some new features that were confusing even to the general population. It is obvious that the confusion was even higher in the case of deaf voters,” said Kedar Prasad Adhikari, General Secretary of NDFN. “This was why we felt the need to conduct the training, to brief them about the voting process and to motivate them to cast their votes. It worked to spread confidence among deaf voters and encourage them to practice their rights as well as motivate others like them to do the same.” He added that the different materials prepared with the support of ESP had helped to further disseminate the electoral information amidst the hearing-impaired community in the country.

At the seminar, participants had been provided with details regarding the structure of local-level entitites, different features of the elections, the layout of the ballot paper and the proper way to mark them. Some public service announcements (PSAs) were also translated in Nepali sign language to be broadcast through TV channels.

“It was very exciting to get to interact with officials from the ECN, who urged us not to miss out on an opportunity to have our voices heard and choose our own leaders,” said Satya Devi Wagle about the seminar. “I enjoyed the mock polling the most,” she added, sharing that having the entire training conducted in sign language ensured that they could all understand the issues being discussed.

Following the seminar at the national level, participants went on to conduct local-level training programmes on election procedures for more than 1,000 local voters with hearing impairment across Nepal.

It was in 2013, in the spirit of supporting the ECN in making electoral processes in Nepal more inclusive, that ESP had started a voter education initiative for the community of people with hearing impairments to raise awareness of electoral issues and motivate them to take part in the polls. For the 2013 Constituent Assembly Elections, posters, PSAs and TV programmes had been produced in sign language. In 2014, a specific training manual for people with hearing impairments was also developed and a train-the-trainers course provided to 25 representatives of the community from different parts of the country.

The Electoral Support Project- Phase II (ESP) is a technical assistance initiative which focuses on a long-term institutional and professional capacity development of the Election Commission (ECN) for conducting credible, inclusive and transparent elections at a national. The objectives of the project are 1) to strengthen the capacity of the ECN to function as an independent and credible institution, 2) to allow the conduct of the election cycle in an effective, sustainable, and credible manner, and 3) to increase democratic participation, particularly for under-represented and disadvantaged segments of the Nepali society. ESP is currently funded by EU and Norway.

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