Election Commission walks the inclusion talk, trains officials in Indian Sign Language

How do you communicate the words 'election' and 'polling booth' in Indian Sign Language? What is the basic etiquette to be followed while talking to a disabled person?

These were just some of the issues that were addressed at a training session in the use of Indian Sign Language (ISL) organized by the Election Commission(EC) in partnership with the Indian Sign Language Research and Training Centre (ISLRTC). The session was in New Delhi this week.

A move that has been welcomed by deaf leaders, who believe that this will help ensure the rights of deaf people are maintained.

I am happy with this decision that the Election Commission has taken. The one big issue the community faces is communication. As no one knows ISL, it becomes difficult to explain to them even simple things. Writing as a form of communication is time consuming so it is better if they have people who knows the basics of sign language communication. - Pradeep More, Deaf Leader, Maharashtra

This is just one of the many steps the EC is taking to make the upcoming Assembly and Lok Sabha polls accessible. A process that kickstarted a while ago and the measures finalized at the end of a two-day National Consultation on Accessible Elections in July this year.

At the end of that consultation, the EC declared a series of facilitation measures for people with disabilities, which included the training and sensitisation of election officials.

Many of these are specifically targeted at people with hearing disabilities, like sign language windows in the audio-visual training and awareness content of the EC.

Experts from the ISLRTC were present to teach ISL words as well as sensitize officials with some of the issues raised by disabled people. Rati Misra, Advisor, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) calls it a much needed move.

"I am delighted to see the ECI take this remarkable step! People with speech and hearing disabilities are so often left out of the accessibility discourse! Also so many people will have a basic understanding of, and exposure to, sign language as a result of this, and they will realise that there really is no stigma attached to its use".

Apart from sign language training for voters with hearing disabilities, the EC has also announced specific measures for blind and visually impaired voters like Braille voter identity cards. In Chhattisgarh, which is the first state to go to the polls, there will be Sugam Accessibility Observers to ensure that the polling process goes off smoothly for people with disabilities.

There are also plans to develop a mobile app for disabled voters to make their participation smoother.

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Watch in Sign Language