If you're blind, dyslexic or have shaky hands, the IEC has a voting template just for you

2019-05-01 10:37
Cape Town's blind piano tuner Philip Theron
Voting is no problem for Cape Town's blind piano tuner Philip Theron, who uses the IEC's special template. (Facebook: Philip Theron)

Voters who are blind, dyslexic or battle with hand control will not be left out on election day because a special template is available for them.

Blind piano tuner Philip Theron may not be able to see the ballot paper, but this has never stopped him from voting, which he says has been made all the more easy with the Electoral Commission of SA's (IEC) universal ballot template (UBT). 

"I have always voted," said Theron, who lost his sight when he was still a toddler due to a medical condition.

"I used to take a trusted friend along, but it is much easier now," he said about the voting process.

Trained in piano tuning in Worcester, Theron is based in Cape Town now and he and an assistant who drives, spend their days travelling the length and breadth of the Cape Metro coaxing the correct notes out of pianos.

They also restore old pianos for resale and some sighted customers wince as he pushes at the front or back of a piano as he and a colleague heft the weighty instrument to or from their van.

With his head cocked to one side, Theron systematically works his way up the keyboard, tweaking at the hammers and strings and pushing at the keys repeatedly until they sound just right. 

He stops occasionally to take his phone out of his pocket to play back an SMS, which is read in a an automated voice. 

Prefer to vote in private

So, after spending his days fine-tuning rows of keys on acoustic pianos, he considers finding his way around the IEC's template a doddle.

His earlier votes were on paper, and for this he took a trusted friend along to help him find where to make his cross. 

"Once there was an electoral official who came along to make sure my friend was putting the cross next to where I wanted it," he said. "That is an infringement of my rights," said Theron. 

He added that the problem seemed to be that the IEC official was not fully informed on the blind vote and it turned into "quite a scene" at the time.

His friend still takes him to the voting station and reads out the party names for him and then leaves him to put his cross inside the window corresponding to the number of the party. 

He said electoral officials are available to help with this too, but he prefers to make his cross in private now that he can.

He gets to fold it himself and is led to the ballot boxes to pop them in himself. Voting companions must be 18 years old or older and must not be a party agent, candidate or observer, according to the IEC. Witnesses are not necessary when a voting companion helps a voter. The voting companion must also keep secret the discussion with the voter.

If the voter does not have a voting companion, the IEC says this should be done in the presence of two party agents from different parties and one accredited observer, if available.

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He is planning to vote on the "big day", May 8, instead of exercising his right to a special vote days before the election. 

"I don't mind if I stand [in] a queue," he said. 

To stay abreast of parties' positions and news on the election to help him make up his mind, he listens to YouTube and to the radio.  

The IEC developed the special template with the help of the South African National Council for the Blind.

However, it is not only for the use of the blind and partially sighted.  

The UBT is also available for low-vision users, people who are dyslexic, the elderly, people with low literacy and people with motor and nervous conditions which do not allow for a steady hand.

Find everything you need to know about the 2019 National and Provincial Government Elections at our News24 Elections site, including the latest news and detailed, interactive maps for how South Africa has voted over the past 3 elections. Make sure your News24 app is updated to access all our elections coverage in one place. 



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