The Fiji Elections Disability Accessibility Working Group (EDAWG) recently launched its work plan for inclusive elections for the next four years.
EDAWG Chairperson and Fijian Elections Office (FEO) Director Operations Anaseini Senimoli said that EDAWG has successfully undertaken activities and programmes to ensure that every individual can fully participate in the elections, regardless of their abilities.
Some of the noteworthy achievements that the EDAWG has undertaken through the assistance of The Pacific Community (SPC) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) are:
- The introduction of an Assisted Voting Steps Diagram in an easy-to-read format (in the form of a flipchart).
- The development of an Assisted Voting Steps Easy-to-Read Guide (in English) to guide persons with disabilities during the voting process.
- The translation of this document into Braille, which was also available in all of the 2055 polling stations around the country and
- The introduction of a Voter Instructions Booklet (in A4 format).
“However, we did not stop there. For the dissemination of information during voter awareness campaigns, the EDAWG also ensured that the Assisted Voting Steps Easy to Read Guides were translated and available in the Hindi and I-Taukei languages. These guides were also available in audio and Braille formats,” stated Ms. Senimoli.
The Chairperson added that the other major achievement was the development of the Voter Instruction Booklet into Braille format, fostering inclusivity through tactile representation, and acknowledged the support of the SPC and USAID.
“Our achievements stand as a testament to the unwavering support of esteemed partners like USAID and the Pacific Community. Their dedication has harmonised with our ambitions, fostering progress within the PROJECT Governance framework,” Ms Senimoli stated.
She added that with the support of the International Foundation of Electoral Systems (IFES) and SPC (funded by USAID), the FEO was able to make amendments to the Presiding Officer’s manual.
“Acknowledging the vital role of capacity building, the FEO received crucial support from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems and the SPC. This collaboration enriched the 'Assisted Voting' section within the Presiding Officer's Manual and culminated in an instructional video for Presiding Officers during their refresher training,” the Chairperson said.
In presenting the report, Ms Senimoli stated that the report articulated the EDAWG’s roadmap and charted course for the forthcoming years, culminating in the next General Election.
She added that a few key activities the EDAWG would like to undertake are:
- Accessibility audits on venues, information materials and websites.
- Organising disability-sensitive training for election officials and
- Collaborating with our development partners to develop disability-inclusive policies for the Fijian Election Office.
“The mutual cooperation we've fostered forms the cornerstone of our endeavours towards truly inclusive elections. With every passing day, I am increasingly confident that our partnership will continue to thrive, forging a path towards a future where no voice is unheard, no vote uncounted,” the Chairperson stated.
The launch of the EDAWG 4-Year Work Plan for Inclusive Elections was attended by USAID Assistant Administrator for Asia, Mr Michael Schiffer and high-level USAID staff, the Director of SPC’s Human Rights and Social Development Division, Mr Miles Young, the Chief of Party of USAID PROJECT Governance Mr Ashley Bowe, representatives of the National Council of Persons with Disabilities, representatives of other Organisations of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs), and representatives of the FEO.
USAID Assistant Administrator Schiffer shared: “Democracy does not happen by accident: we have to defend it, fight for it, strengthen it, and renew it. USAID is proud to support democratic institutions and processes in Fiji and across the Pacific Islands so that all people can participate fully in and benefit from development efforts. We are excited to continue our partnership with the EDAWG and commend Fiji's commitment to making future elections even more inclusive.”