MONROVIA-Conducting elections in Liberia have always been an issue of concern for everyone, but the 2023 Presidential and Legislative Elections are seen to even be of greater matter of concern not only for political actors but also those from the physically challenged community of Liberia.
This was actualized when more than 20 hearing and speech-impaired people joined the Friday, February 24 Civic & Voter Education Launch with a plea for inclusion in the 2023 electoral processes of Liberia.
They came under the canopy of a community-based organization, Total Dignity Institute, which according to them, had fought for their inclusion in mainstream society since the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) Outbreak in 2014.
A Spokesperson of the group, Robetha Gwee, through a Sign Language interpreter, recounted some challenges confronting the Liberian hearing and speech-impaired community, estimated at over 50,000 people, according to www.joshuaproject.net. Ms. Gwee, deaf herself, said usually the deaf does not vote in most elections because of the lack of information. “We do not hear you and you don’t hear us without the help of Sign Language. We too are Liberians who need to take part in every good thing in Liberia, including elections”, Robertha told Frank Sainworla’s 2023 Elections Update at the NEC’s Headquarters on Friday.
She asked national and international stakeholders to always be conscious of the Deaf Community. She pointed to the Ebola crisis when they lived in confusion and disdain because of the lack of public information since radio, the most effective media information tool in Liberia does not apply to them. For Montserrado, the UNDP provided support to them through Total Dignity Institute which conveyed health and safety information through Sign Language and built hand-washing tanks which are in use today in 3 deaf camps after 9 years.
The deaf advocate revealed startlingly that the lack of information access has deprived them of the protection of their human rights in Liberia. She mentioned prevalent sexual violations, domestic violence, healthcare access, and limited education services as a few of the daunting challenges they live with. Some members of the deaf community She named family stigma, another depressing factor that causes deaf children to run away from their families and community. Roberta said the deaf people are the poorest of the poor, the hungriest, and the most deprived people group in Liberia.
As a Focused Person for the Deaf Community at her organization, Roberta said she is pushing for Civic and Voter Education (CVE) materials and support to make them reach out to the rest of the deaf of the voting age to prepare themselves for registration. She said her plan is to follow up with the elections commission and the donor community for partnership.
Total Dignity Institute (TDI) is a non-profit charity established in 2014 on the campus of the Monrovia School of the Deaf on Smythe Road, Old Road to help lend a voice of advocacy, education, and health to the deaf community. The organization works with deaf volunteers and interpreters to link up the community with mainstream information.