People With Disabilities find it difficult to pursue further studies and vote

20-year-old Gyem Lham is semi-blind and has Cerebral Palsy. She was unable to continue her schooling after the third grade in Dagana, as it was challenging for her to manage on her own in the school hostel. Gyem Lham had no option but to return to her village. But her elder brother encouraged her to pursue her studies.

“After a year, my elder brother encouraged me to continue my studies, hence I repeated in third grade in Samdrupjongkhar. I was 13 years old and the oldest in the class. With my condition, I was often mocked by my classmates and even teachers made fun of me. I even thought of giving up studying, but my brother was determined to continue my studies till grade ten. I even went under depression but couldn’t express my feelings to my brothers thinking they might feel sad.”

She further added, “Even during lunch time, I had to eat alone as no one would accompany me saying I smelled and was drooling saliva. I really wanted to give up my studies, not because of my lack of interest, but with me becoming a joke in the school. I had to repeat in 3rd grade twice, and eventually decided to discontinue my education career in 2018. Again, with the encouragement from my family, I joined Non-Formal Education (NFE) and studied for 3 years.”

After NFE, Gyem decided to join the nunnery, but her brother advised her against the move, as he was worried she would not be able to cope with the strict routine.

Draktsho Vocational Training Center for Special Children and Youth was the option that worked out for Gyem. She said she is grateful to be enrolled in Draktsho for a year now.

Kelzang Chimmi, 25, has hypoacusis. He was working as a chef in a restaurant. Since the owner decided to go abroad, they had to shut down the restaurant and he was left unemployed.

“The owner took me to the hospital for a checkup and then I came to know I had problem in my ear. I was recommended to use hearing aids, but still I couldn’t hear clearly, so I decided not to use it anymore,” he said.

“As Draktsho is a vocational center, they focus on one’s strengths and provides the skills improvement. They further send us for skills trainings like crafting. I am interested in arts and painting, and hopefully in the future, I can pursue my interest.”

Tshering Lham, 21, said she has been in the village till 7th grade, and from 8th grade onwards, the students have to enroll in boarding school, but being a person with disability, she was unable to move to a hostel on her own.

After staying idle at home for a few years, her present teacher, who is from the same village as her, told her about Draktsho, and she decided to join the center. She is interested in doing arts, but as her hands are crippled, she uses her feet to create art.

PWDs shared that soon with the upcoming National Assembly Elections, they feel further excluded in the society, as being a differently abled people they are not able to participate like other citizens.

Choki Wangmo who is a blind individual shared that though she really wants to participate in casting her vote in the upcoming election, but she is blind which make it impossible for her to participate.

Choki said, “As I am a blind person, even if I hoped to participate in voting, it will be difficult for me. Though I have right as a citizen of the country to vote, but with no binary facility during voting, I won’t be able to cast my vote.”

A deaf individual also shared, “As a democratic country every citizen has the right to vote. Though a single vote matters, we disabled individuals do not have the opportunity to cast our vote. Those who can’t hear doesn’t know what political groups promises during election campaigns. Even if their manifestos are available online, but being intellectually disabled and not well educated, we find it very difficult.”

Gyambo Dorji is 35-year-old and he was born with a physical disability that affects his mobility, requiring him to use the wheelchair. He shared, “Many polling stations lack proper infrastructure, such as ramps, handrails and accessible pathways, making it difficult or impossible for people like us with mobility impairments to enter and cast votes independently.”

He also said, “Further, the absence of trained staff and volunteers who can provide assistance to disabled voters exacerbates the situation. Many persons with visual impairments or cognitive disabilities struggle to navigate the complex voting procedures. The absence of accessible voting materials, including Braille or large print versions, further limits our ability to make informed choices.”

“Additionally, the lack of awareness and understanding among the general public about the rights and needs of Persons With Disabilities contributes to their disenfranchisement,” he further added.

Negative attitudes and stereotypes surrounding disability often discourage differently abled individuals from participating in the political process, leading to their underrepresentation in decision-making process.

Persons with disabilities are encountering significant obstacles in exercising their right to vote. These challenges are raising concerns about the inclusivity and accessibility of the electoral process and highlighting the need for greater support for disabled individuals.

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