India still years away from an accessible election for people with disabilities

Asia-Pacific, April 3 2014

CHENNAI, INDIA: Absence of ramps, Braille systems for people with vision disabilities, are some of the hurdles they still face.

Policemen help a voter with disability at a polling booth in Virugambakkam. Photo: S.S.Kumar

Policemen help a voter with disability at a polling booth in Virugambakkam. Photo: S.S.Kumar

A decade after the Election Commission sent out directions to poll officers to make the process easy for people with vision disabilities, TMN Deepak, who uses crutches to move around, still finds casting the vote an ordeal.

There are obvious hurdles such as absence of ramps, no Braille systems for people with vision disabilities, and Electronic Voting Machines beyond the reach of those with disabilities. Even worse are the inappropriate terms used in the Handbook For Returning Officers.

Phrases such as “deaf and dumb” still figure, which is why his yells were the loudest as 50-odd people with similar and other impairments, voiced their concerns to A. Karthik, Special Chief Electoral Officer, Election Commission. The most-frequent request was for ramps with hand-rails. Vehicles have been barred within 200 metres of polling booths, giving people with mobility disabilities a hard time.

Another call was for a central registry for eligible voters. Although the National Sample Survey Office keeps track of the number, the electorate in this segment has not been identified yet.

“One of the top priorities is to set up a system to ascertain the eligible voters,” said Karthik. Mobile voting units that will reach far-flung areas and postal ballots for the immobile were also suggested.

But the practicalities may not be worked out before this elections, said K Manivasan, State Commissioner for the Welfare of Persons with Disabilities.

It may not be possible to provide wheelchairs in all polling booths but a start will be made, said Karthik.

Sign-language interpreters at polling booths, and priority voting for people who accompany people with disabilities, will be considered for implementation during this elections itself, Karthik told a cheering crowd.

“Most suggestions will involve training polling officers to be sensitive to people’s needs,” he said.

Source: Hindu Business Line

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