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Auttapon Srichitsanuwaranon, a mobility-impaired disability rights activist and senate candidate, has submitted an open letter to the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) urging that the selection of polling stations for the Senate election be accessible to all groups of people.

Auttapon Srichitsanuwaranon speaking to the media before filing his letter.

According to The Reporter, Auttapon, who is running as a senate candidate in Group 15—comprising the elderly, people with disabilities, and people who represent ethnicities and other identities—submitted an open letter on 13 June to the Office of the Election Commission of Thailand, the Nakhon Pathom Provincial Election Commission Office, and the district-level election committee in Nakhon Chai Si District, Nakhon Pathom, regarding the selection of polling locations for the 2024 Senate election to facilitate access for all so as to prevent accidents and injuries to candidates and officials.

In an interview with the media before submitting the letter, Auttapon stated that his objective is to highlight the problem and seek solutions, citing the Election Commission’s regulations for the 2024 Senate election, which make Election Commission Chair responsible for the condition of polling stations, and require election venues to be conveniently accessible and adequately sized. Auttapon stressed that the current arrangements neglect the convenience of the disabled, those with physical injuries, the elderly and others in exercising their voting rights.

Auttapon said he is filing the letter because of an incident on 9 June, when an official was injured while carrying Auttapon in his wheelchair up and down stairs in the building where the district-level senate election was taking place in Nakhon Chai Si District, Nakhon Pathom. He said that he was one of two mobility-impaired candidates voting on that day. The other candidate has a more critical condition and uses a heavier electric wheelchair.

Auttapon said that at around 8:00 am, while entering the assembly hall at the Chalerm Phrakiat 60th Anniversary of Her Majesty the Queen Building in the Nakhon Chai Si District Office, the candidates were welcomed by the staff, who assisted them appropriately and respectfully.

However, while the candidates were leaving the building in the afternoon, one of the officials carrying Auttapon slipped on the last step of the stairs and fell. The official held onto the wheelchair, preventing it from tipping over. Although Auttapon was uninjured, he suspects the official who fell probably was injured.

Auttapon admitted that he felt sorry and concerned about the situation, worrying about the injured official who assisted him. He emphasized that if the polling station had been accessible to everyone from the start, such an incident would not have occurred. He has tried to communicate these concerns since the registration day of the Senate election because the building where the election was held was the same as the one that hosted the registration.

Auttapon clarified that he did not blame the official who assisted him but was disappointed with the people in power who did not choose a venue that could accommodate the needs of disabled individuals. The incident thus led him to propose the following to the Election Commission:

  1. At a local level, any venue related to elections, whether at the provincial or district level, must be chosen to ensure accessibility for all groups of people. This is to allow the public to participate and exercise their rights equally, safely and fairly.
  2. The owners or managers of the Chalerm Phrakiat 60th Anniversary of Her Majesty the Queen Building in Nakhon Chai Si District must allocate a budget to construct ramps that comply with the standards specified in the Ministry of Interior's 2005 regulations on facilities in buildings for the disabled and elderly. This would ensure sustainable benefits to the community in the long term.
  3. At the national level, the Election Commission must stress to all provincial and district offices the importance of selecting venues that meet accessibility standards for all groups of people equally, fairly and safely.

Auttapon concluded that the proposed improvements in venue accessibility would reduce the burden and responsibility of officials required to assist people in need, and it would help prevent physical injuries and accidents, ensuring safety for everyone. Finally, it promotes an image of respect for diversity among the people.

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