Skip to main content
Oyewole holds up her permanent voters card in front of her polling station.
Benedicta Oyèdayọ̀ Oyèwọlé holds up her permanent voters card in front of her polling station on February 25. Photos by Oyèwọlé.


I Voted

Play audio version

DJP Fellow Benedicta Oyèdayọ̀ Oyèwọlé Documents the Challenges Nigerians with Disabilities Faced Voting in February’s Elections

March 5, 2023

ABUJA, Nigeria — During the 2015 elections in Nigeria, I was in my last year of secondary school and not old enough yet to vote. But that was the year my electoral participation was unleashed. Many people in my hometown exhibited great political apathy, asking themselves, “What would my one vote do?” This mindset was washed away from me by my economics teacher, Mr. Adedokun. He used half an hour of every class to discuss politics, argumentatively and factually. I grew enthusiastic about taking part in the elections. I questioned if people with disabilities were prohibited from performing their civic duty or if the civic obligation only applied to people who were not disabled because I did not see any people with disabilities at the polls or even running for office. 

In a cramped waiting room of my principal’s office, students watched the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) collate and announce the results of the general election, with a sign language interpreter in a boxed corner of the television. I was somewhat convinced that the election was for everyone, including persons with disabilities.

The Deprioritzation of Voters with Disabilties

A few years later, close to the 2019 general elections, I celebrated my 18th birthday and was now of voting age. My sister and I went to INEC’s local government early on a Wednesday morning in 2018 to register for a permanent voters card (PVC). To our astonishment, we were numbers 315 and 316 on the list, respectively, while there were only about 30 other people around. We had to leave that day and keep returning. The deprioritization of persons with disabilities caught my attention throughout this process. The PVC form did not include any information about requirements for reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities in their polling units.

In 2019, I participated in the #VoteYourFuture campaign organized by the ONE Campaign at my institution because I was excited about the upcoming elections. During the panel discussion, I emphasized the significance of giving young people with disabilities priority in conversations about an inclusive future. Unfortunately, because I was studying in Ilorin, Kwara State, and my polling place was in Ibadan, Oyo State, I was unable to vote in those elections either.

Despite this, I followed with interest Lois Auta, an unstoppable force and a woman with a disability who ran for a seat in the House of Representatives. She faced significant pushback and discrimination but persisted with her campaign. Although she lost, it geared me up to know that women with disabilities, when given the proper access, support, and platform, can vie for political positions in Nigeria.

I relocated to Abuja in 2022, which required me to file for a voter transfer so I could cast my ballot in my new state. Abuja is the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria. Surprisingly, I was able to relocate easily to a polling location close to my home using INEC’s website.  

Once I received my permanent voter card with my new state and voting place, I was prepared to cast my ballot. My excitement as a first-time voter changed when I learned that I had been transferred to a less congested polling location. This newer location was not close to my home, and it would be difficult to find transportation there on election day. Additionally, because of the country’s cash crisis, I had no money to use for transportation until my neighbor, another young excited voter, gave me ₦500.

Election Day

On February 25, my mother called me early on the morning of the much-anticipated presidential, Senate, and House of Representatives elections to get me ready to vote. I walked a short distance before getting on a bike to get to my polling place, which I was able to find using Google Maps on INEC’s website. After I waited for almost two hours, the electoral officials arrived. Although there was some incorporation of preferences for people with disabilities in my polling unit, people with disabilities still had a difficult time navigating the demanding voting process. Without my friend, I wouldn’t have been able to get around independently as a person with cerebral palsy with limited mobility. The accreditation process was rigorous, and without the physical strength needed to pull through, I had to lean on my friend for support throughout the process. The voting structure and location were not ones I could navigate independently either. I can say, without my friend, I would not have been able to vote. A disability-friendly election framework was absent.

Oyewole navigates her polling location along with other Nigerians with disabilities.
Oyèwọlé, in pink pants and a black T-shirt, navigates her polling location along with other Nigerians with disabilities.

Voter turnout in Nigeria has fallen for years, from 65 percent in 2003 to 34 percent in 2019. Ignoring the fact that persons with disabilities are not able to vote because of a lack of access and inclusivity in Africa’s largest democracy, politicians and analysts frequently attribute the drop solely to violent elections and voter apathy. In 2022 Nigeria did pass the Electoral Act Amendment Bill into law, and it requires INEC to take “reasonable steps” to support persons with disabilities before, during, and after the voting process. The commission said it would provide people with disabilities with assistive materials, such as magnifying glasses, Braille ballots, and pictorial election instructions, but in my polling unit, none of these was available from the time I registered to vote until I cast my ballot. Election observers noted a similar trend across the country. It’s no wonder, then, that out of the approximately 9,518,000 validly registered Nigerian voters, only 85,362 are people with disabilities, according to INEC. 

The engagement of persons with disabilities in the democratic process lays the groundwork for mainstreaming people with disabilities into all areas of society.

Benedicta Oyèdayọ̀ Oyèwọlé

For me, the election served as a reflection of how Nigerians view people with disabilities, and this marginalization extends to other spheres of society. While I was able to vote with the help of a friend, less the 1 percent of people with disabilities who registered for PVCs were able to complete the voting process. I was not given an INEC-designated feedback form for persons with disabilities, and when I asked INEC officials at my polling unit, they did not know it existed.

Three white bins are placed on concrete blocks. One says "presidential," while the second ssays "senatorial." The third says "House of Representatives." People are standing in line on a dirt road behind them.
The February 25 elections were for the president, Senate, and House of Representatives.

As stated in Article 29 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Nigeria ratified in 2007, persons with disabilities should be able to participate effectively and fully in political life on an equal basis with others. But this was not entirely the case with the general elections on February 25. The engagement of persons with disabilities in the democratic process lays the groundwork for mainstreaming people with disabilities into all areas of society. People with disabilities should be able to safely participate in civic and political life on an equal basis. I hope that more people with disabilities will be able to participate in the voting process without obstacles in the upcoming gubernatorial and House of Assembly elections on March 18.

DJP Fellow Benedicta Oyèdayọ̀ Oyèwọlé is an intersectional feminist passionate about disability and women’s rights. She currently works as a program officer of diversity and inclusion at the Women’s Health and Equal Rights (WHER) Initiative, a nonprofit focused on promoting the rights and well-being of lesbian, bisexual, and queer (LBQ) women in Nigeria.

@2022 WHER. All rights reserved.

News From the Global Frontlines of Disability Justice

A photo montage of inaccessible voting places across the US.

Barriers to the Ballot

Despite legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act, barriers at the polls still hinder — and often prevent — people with disabilities from voting. New restrictive laws in some states, such as criminalizing assistance with voting, exacerbate these issues. Advocacy groups continue to fight for improved accessibility and increased voter turnout among disabled individuals, emphasizing the need for multiple voting options to accommodate diverse needs. ““Of course, we want to vote,” says Claire Stanley with the American Council of the Blind, “but if you can’t, you can’t.”

Read more about Barriers to the Ballot

A collage of photos showing inaccessible polling stations.

Democracy Denied

In 2024, a record number of voters worldwide will head to the polls, but many disabled individuals still face significant barriers. In India, inaccessible electronic voting machines and polling stations hinder the ability of disabled voters to cast their ballots independently. Despite legal protections and efforts to improve accessibility, systemic issues continue to prevent many from fully participating in the world’s largest democracy. “All across India, the perception of having made a place accessible,” says Vaishnavi Jayakumar of Disability Rights Alliance, “is to put a decent ramp at the entrance and some form of quasi-accessible toilet.”

Read more about Democracy Denied

An illustration of DJP fellow Esther Suubbi and some of her peers.

Triumph Over Despair

DJP Fellow Esther Suubi shares her journey of finding purpose in supporting others with psychosocial disabilities. She explores the transformative power of peer support and her evolution to becoming an advocate for mental health. “Whenever I see people back on their feet and thriving, they encourage me to continue supporting others so that I don’t leave anyone behind,” she says. “It is a process that is sometimes challenging, but it also helps me to learn, unlearn, and relearn new ways that I can support someone – and myself.”

Read more about Triumph Over Despair

Daniel Mushimiyimana from the Rwanda Union of the Blind, sits in a row of chairs at a conference.

‘Our Vote Matters’

As Rwanda prepares for its presidential elections, voices like Daniel Mushimiyimana’s have a powerful message: every vote counts, including those of citizens with disabilities. Despite legal frameworks like the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, challenges persist in translating these into practical, accessible voting experiences for over 446,453 Rwandans with disabilities. To cast a vote, blind people need to take a sighted relative to read the ballot. An electoral committee member must be present, violating the blind person’s voting privacy. “We want that to change in these coming elections,” says Mushimiyimana.

Read more about ‘Our Vote Matters’

Srijana KC smiles at the camera. She has long dark hair and is wearing a red scarf and green cardigan sweater.

Voices Unsilenced

Often dismissed as a personal concern, mental health is a societal issue, according to Srijana KC, who works as a psychosocial counselor for the Nepali organization KOSHISH. KC’s own history includes a seizure disorder, which resulted in mental health challenges. She faced prejudice in both educational settings and the workplace, which pushed her towards becoming a street vendor to afford her medications. Now with KOSHISH, she coordinates peer support gatherings in different parts of Nepal. “It is crucial to instill hope in society, recognizing that individuals with psychosocial disabilities can significantly contribute,” she says.

Read more about Voices Unsilenced

Three fellows with the Disability Justice Project stand behind their cameras in a room. One is blind and one is low vision.

Capturing Vision Through Sound and Touch

Last summer, the DJP trained Indigenous activists with disabilities from the Pacific on the iPhone camera to create a documentary series on disability and climate change. With VoiceOver, the iPhone provides image descriptions for blind and low-vision filmmakers and offers other accessible features. “If you think about it, it doesn’t make sense for a blind person to use a camera,” says DJP filmmaker Ari Hazelman. “The iPhone gives you more avenues to tell your story in a more profound way as a blind person.”

Read more about Capturing Vision Through Sound and Touch