Like many first-time voters, Wan Alya Wan Hanizan, 28, is enthusiastic about casting her vote in the 15th General Election on Nov 19.
On that day, Wan Alya, who has Down syndrome, hopes to be at her polling station at SK Setiawangsa in Kuala Lumpur at 8.30am.
“Wan Alya ‘rasa seronok’ (feels excited). Ibu has been teaching me how to mark ‘X’ beside my favourite candidate. I want to be at the voting station early so I can beat the queue. I must ensure my OKU card is ready with me on voting day,” says Wan Alya during an interview in Kuala Lumpur recently.
There are over 21 million eligible voters this time round, according to the Election Commission (EC). Among them are registered Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) voters who include individuals with learning disabilities, speech impediment, the visually impaired and the deaf.
Wan Alya’s mother, Hanizan Hussin, 64, has been teaching her the steps involved in the voting process.
She is confident Wan Alya – an assistant carer at a preschool in Putrajaya – will make the right choice and vote for the candidate who can shape the future of our country.
“Most adults with Down syndrome are capable of doing things. We only need to give them the instructions and tell them what to do. They are quite independent.
“Wan Alya understands what is GE15 and she wants to do her part to vote for the suitable candidate to represent Setiawangsa. She knows who our prime minister is, and the names of some of our ministers,” said Hanizan, the past president of the Malaysia Down Syndrome Association (MDSA).
Wan Alya attends vocational and living skills training at MDSA’s training centre in Ampang, Kuala Lumpur. Two weeks ago, the teachers prepared a mock polling station for their special-needs students.
“A classroom has been set up to resemble a voting station, complete with tables, ballot box, ink and ballot paper. Parents or guardians of people with special needs cannot assist them at the voting station. We must ensure they are prepared to cast their vote for GE15.
“The Quran states that voting is an obligation. So, we must do our duty to vote responsibly for the future leaders of our country,” said Hanizan.
Rani Narayasamy, 46, is also training her son, Thasraveen Chandra Segaran, 21, about the voting process. In the last few weeks, they have been keeping tabs on the campaign trails of various candidates on social media.
Thasraveen is diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A part-time model and actor, he is a person with high-functioning autism and is currently pursuing his diploma in logistics management at a private college in Kuala Lumpur.
Thasraveen is well-versed with Malaysian politics and the country’s economic growth. Rani is confident he will vote for the right candidate in the general election.
“Since nomination day, he’s been keeping up to date with the candidate list and keeping tabs on the campaign trails of some of his favourite politicians. Thasraveen’s polling station is in Setiawangsa and we are hoping to go to the polling station early in the morning on Nov 19,” said Rani, a trainer for children with special needs.
Catering to their needs
Some people with high-functioning autism experience sensory overload, where noise, crowds and bright lights might seem unbearable. Rani’s only concern is that her son might feel uncomfortable when surrounded by many people at the voting station.
“I hope the EC will prepare an express lane for the OKU, the elderly and pregnant women. I also hope there will be other facilities provided for the blind and wheelchair users. Everyone has a right to vote, and priority must be given to people with special needs,” said the mother of three.
As a wheelchair user, Persatuan OKU Sentral president Senator Datuk Ras Adiba Radzi, 54, has cast her vote as an OKU in the past elections. So far, she’s not faced any issues with the services offered for the OKU on polling day.
“From my observation, the EC has been doing their very best to ensure voting stations are accessible to all persons with disabilities.
“For example, at my voting station, I’ve seen volunteers coming around and assisting the elderly and OKU. In addition, the ballot tables are built at a certain height, making it easy for wheelchair users to manoeuvre themselves to the table to cast their votes,” she said.
For a comprehensive understanding of people with disabilities, Ras Adiba thinks it is important for EC officials and volunteers to attend Disability Equality Training (DET) workshops.
“SPR must also take into consideration those with learning disabilities, rare diseases, the blind and the deaf who might need assistance during GE15. Therefore, GE15 volunteers should brace themselves and be prepared to cater to the needs of people with special needs.
“It’s SPR’s duty to ensure there are special Braille voting slips for the blind. Wheelchair-accessible portable toilets should be prepared for OKU voters too.
“Hopefully voting centres will be equipped with ramps that cater to wheelchair users. It is also my wish that sign language interpreters will be present at many voting centres too,” said Ras Adiba.