EOC Calls for Stronger Efforts to Make Voting More Accessible to Persons with Disabilities and Ethnic Minorities
The 2019 District Council Election will soon be held on 24 November. The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) calls on the Government, candidates, persons concerned and frontline staff to take active measures to ensure that the equal voting rights of electors with disabilities or from ethnic communities will not be deprived due to inaccessible polling stations or language barriers.
“As a statutory body tasked with eliminating discrimination and promoting diversity and inclusion, the EOC attaches great importance to the promotion of equal opportunities for all, irrespective of their disabilities and race, including equal participation in politics and public affairs. The EOC considers that all eligible electors, regardless of their ethnic background or whether they have a disability, should enjoy equal rights to cast their votes and are entitled to equal access to voting process, facilities and information,” said Mr Ricky CHU Man-kin, Chairperson of the EOC.
As in previous elections, the Registration and Electoral Office (REO) will put in place measures to facilitate electors with special needs to exercise their right to vote in the 2019 District Council Election. There are over 600 ordinary polling stations for the election this year, more than 90 percent of which are accessible to wheelchair users. The REO will also provide braille lists of candidates and braille templates to help people with visual impairment to cast their votes, as well as a pictorial voting aid to assist electors with hearing impairment. Comparing to the 2015 election, facilitation measures are further enhanced by the REO, such as setting up temporary ramps for electors with mobility difficulties at polling stations where the circumstances permit. On the polling day, electors with visual impairment will be allowed to use the telephones at the polling stations to access the Interactive Voice Response System through a dedicated telephone line to listen to the recording made from the text version of the “Introduction to Candidates”. Since 2018, the REO has also launched facilitation measures for other electors with special needs, such as electors with intellectual differences, electors with speech or communication impairment and electors who are not familiar with Chinese or English.
“2019 District Council Ordinary Election Facilitation Measures for Electors with Special Needs” issued by the REO has been uploaded on the EOC website (https://www.eoc.org.hk/s/2019Election/index.html) to facilitate public access to information.
“The EOC welcomes moves to make voting more accessible to persons with disabilities and ethnic minorities (EMs), allowing them to exercise their civil rights,” said Mr CHU. “However, we found that language barriers remain in the District Council Election this year. Meanwhile, most candidates’ promotional materials uploaded to the election website are still available only in Chinese. It is vital that both Chinese and English versions of the promotional materials are available in order to guarantee to EM electors rights to access to information and the opportunity to vote on an equal basis with others. It does not only allow EM electors to know the candidates and their platforms better, but also allows the candidates to expand their supporter pool.”
Mr CHU added that the “Study on EM’s Most Concerned Issues And Voting Behavior” conducted by Hong Kong Council of Social Service and Hong Kong Christian Service in 2016 showed that about 70% of the interviewed registered EM electors for the Legislative Council Election that year could not find a candidate truly representing their needs and concerns. Candidates’ platforms mostly did not mention EM related issues and half of their promotional materials were written only in Chinese. Besides providing a barrier-free environment and barrier-free online content and services, the EOC urges candidates to provide election advertisements in Chinese, English and/or different EM languages to facilitate understanding by electors who do not read Chinese, and to meet the needs of EMs. The REO has also called on the candidates to provide election advertisements in English and/or EM languages in this year’s Facilitation Measures for Electors with Special Needs.
In addition, the REO has launched various facilitation measures for EM electors, which include providing key information on election-related matters, in particular voting procedures, in seven EM languages (Bahasa Indonesia, Hindi, Nepali, Punjabi, Tagalog, Thai and Urdu) at the polling station and on the dedicated election website; displaying the same information at eight EM support service centres; providing free telephone interpretation service in seven EM languages mentioned above through the REO telephone hotline in collaboration with CHEER; and announcing election-related information in five EM languages (Bahasa Indonesia, Hindi, Nepali, Thai and Urdu) through radio to appeal to EM electors to vote.
The EOC calls on relevant parties to provide assistance to people with disabilities or special needs as far as practicable, to enable them to participate in the election and exercise their civil and political rights, so that we can together build a truly equal and inclusive society.
Equal Opportunities Commission
8 November 2019