As Lebanese citizens get ready to vote in parliamentary elections on May 15, questions remain whether those with disabilities will be able to safely cast their ballots. An estimated 10 to 15 percent of Lebanon’s population have a disability, and Lebanon has the greatest number of older citizens in the Middle East, some with limited mobility.
While Lebanon’s electoral law requires the Interior Ministry to take measures to ensure that people with disabilities can vote, in Lebanon’s previous elections it is estimated that only a few thousand voted, and many reported serious obstacles to voting.
Polling stations are often located in school buildings, many of which lack suitable access for people with disabilities. Polling stations are also regularly located on higher floors, creating obstacles for people who cannot climb stairs. According to Sylvana Lakkis, president of the Lebanese Union for People with Physical Disabilities (LUPD), instead of improving accessibility at the last elections in 2018, the Interior Ministry tasked security force personnel and civil defense members with carrying people upstairs. Not only did people report feeling humiliated by this, but it also resulted in serious health complications for some. It was also reported that some political volunteers tried to influence the vote of people they were carrying upstairs.
According to the LUPD, the Lebanese authorities have offered little to no accessible information to people with intellectual, visual, or hearing disabilities, which is vital to ensuring they can make informed political decisions.
There has been some progress. Lakkis reports that for the first time the locations of a small number of polling stations have been switched to more accessible venues. But this will only benefit a small number of the people with disabilities throughout the country who are entitled to vote.
Human Rights Watch wrote to the Interior Ministry on April 12 asking about the measures the ministry was taking to ensure people with disabilities could exercise their right to vote. To date, we have not received a response.
Much more needs to be done to ensure that people with disabilities and older people can vote freely and with dignity. Instead of piecemeal measures, the Lebanese authorities should make accessibility, including assistance in voting, a core criteria to strengthen political participation of people with disabilities.