With 50 days to the upcoming 2017 elections, several members of the Liberia National Association of the Deaf (LNAD) have expressed serious disappointment over how , according to them, they have been “totally excluded from the entire electoral process” by the National Elections Commission (NEC) due to their disability which they described as a major challenge for them.
In an exclusive interview with the Daily Observer over the weekend at the program marking the official launch of the Youth and Elections Project by the Ministry of Youth and Sports (MoYS) in collaboration with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the General Secretary of LNAD, Mr. Abdullah Tani Konateh, said the deaf community desperately wants to fully participate in the development process of the country, especially in the electoral process, but have not been given the chance despite several efforts being made.
“It’s our right to participate in the rebuilding process of our country especially with the issue of electing our leaders. We are one way or the other educated and also have experience in civic and voter education, but we are lacking interpreters who will guide us in the process because they are our guides and we depend on them to interpret to us the happenings at various events since we are deaf,” he said.
Konateh lamented that efforts to include LNAD have not materialized due to lack of interpreters who will speak on their behalf so that their voices will be heard.
Commenting on the just ended presidential debate between Vice President Joseph Boakai of Unity Party (UP); Benoni Urey, All Liberian Party (ALP); Alexander Cummings, Alternative National Congress (ANC); and Cllr. Charles W. Brumskine, Liberty Party (LP), Konateh said they were deeply frustrated in the process because they were not included, “because there was no interpreter to help us understand what the presidential candidates told Liberians during the debate.”
“I was feeling disappointed Thursday because there were no sign language interpreters at the presidential debate for the deaf community in Liberia. How will the deaf community know what presidential candidates will do for our country? Other countries give serious attention to people like us by assigning an interpreter that will help us through the process, but we are totally disappointed and feel like we are not human. But, we will continue to advocate for our rights until change can come for us,” he said in a dejected tone, with tears in his eyes.
Speaking after Konateh, Madam Louise T. Diggs, the acting president of Liberian Deaf Women In Action, said, “During the elections, the disabled are capable of voting wisely and solidly for the presidential and representative hopefuls, but we have no idea on how it is going to be for us because we lack training. Therefore, a lot of our members vote for the wrong candidates and we think that due to the lack of communication, we are missing out.”
Madam Diggs explained that voting will be easy for the deaf if there are sign language interpreters at all the polling stations so that they can also exercise their fundamental human rights. She complained that their needs are most often being ignored and sometimes some political parties don’t involve the deaf community when making decisions.
LNAD member, Mrs. Jessy Jefferson, said deaf Liberians are “living in a different world because we are deaf; therefore, it really gives us a hard time to communicate .”
LNAD is calling on NEC officials to include them in the electoral process despite limited time, adding that they can make an impact on the society if they are given sign language interpreters to help them in the process. They lauded the UNDP for including them in the program, which was fully interpreted by a sign language interpreter, and called on other government partners and the government to follow the steps of the UNDP to give deaf people an audience to express themselves.
UNDP country director Dr. Lamin Beyai promised to work along with the disabled community, especially the deaf community, to participate in UNDP projects for the betterment of the country. He explained that those living as deaf are also great contributors to the successful implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that Liberia hopes to achieve, including vision 2030. “UNDP is working with other partners on projects like the Youth and Elections Project to include our people with disabilities because they are citizens and must be given equal rights despite their conditions.”
This newspaper will also engage the NEC and other partners to know the level of support being given to the deaf community.