Samoa moves to include everyone in election preparations

Samoa's Office of the Electoral Commissioner (O.E.C.) staff using sign language during training. Picture: SAMOA OBSERVER

APIA, 27 SEPTEMBER 2018 (SAMOA GOVT) – The Office of the Samoa Electoral Commissioner is continuing its preparations for the 2021 General Elections with the Vision of “Embracing free, fair and inclusive elections” as guidance.

Since the launch of its Strategic Plan 2016-2021 following the 2021 General Elections, OEC is implementing strategic objectives that include “inclusive elections”.

“Our electoral laws allow all citizens of Samoa who have attained 21 years of age to take part in our elections,” Electoral Commissioner, Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio says. “That’s regardless of your gender or whether you have disabilities or not.”

For that, Faimalomatumua said it was important that a platform is readily available for all citizens to learn about their rights obligations as voters or candidates under the electoral laws.

This week OEC welcomes experts from the Samoa Deaf Society, to conduct basic training on sign language.

“The logic behind the training with the OEC is to not only promote the ability of the deaf Society but also to recognize deaf people’s rights to be able to access information on elections so that they can have a voice in this process of selecting future leaders of Samoa without being interfered with by anyone else, Vice President of the Samoa Deaf Society, Josefa Sokovagone said.

According to Sokovagone, about 200 people with hearing impairment in the database but they believe there are more out there. He said their organization’s aim is not only to promote sign language to its members but also to the public, especially those in government agencies, to ensure that this portion of the population is not disadvantaged from the government services.

He emphasised on the importance of election in any democratic society, and ensuring participation from all citizens, including those with disabilities contribute to a healthy democracy in that society.

This training, which coincided with the commemoration of the International Death Week also acknowledged the importance of making sure that the rights of people with disabilities are exercised exclusively at any Election.

OEC is now committed to having sign language on a constant basis with the hope to up skilled its staff members to improve communication with people suffering hearing impairment.

It is also planning to work with Non-governmental Organizations that deal with the rights of people with disabilities like Nuanua o le Alofa and SENESE to develop materials that are accessible and user friendly not only for those with hearing impairment but also those with vision impairment.

Another important aspect of the training is the push to change the community’s mindset when dealing with people with disabilities.

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