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Election Commission's voter helpline 1950 proves to be a letdown for disabled community in Chennai

The Election Commission of India (ECI)'s Accessible Election promises seem to be unravelling at the preliminary stage.

Many disabled voters in Chennai have alleged that repeated attempts to get through 1950, the helpline number of the ECI helpline number 1950 are failing. With the voter registration deadline of 16 March just days away, they are angry and upset.

Balasubramaniam, who is bedridden due to a physical disability, is worried as he has not been able to register himself so far. "I want to get my voter ID and have called 1950 often but have not been able to get through. I am worried that I will not be able to register myself by Saturday. I cannot walk to the registration centre and I was happy when I heard the ECI say that its officials would come home to register voters if needed".

In Sumitha Prasad's case, there are eight disabled people relying on her to register to vote. Prasad manages a bakery that is run by people with disabilities, all of whom want to vote. She was counting on the ECI's promise to register disabled people at the doorstep.

"We run a neighbourbood bakery and there are eight people who want to register. They need to be enrolled and I was counting on the EC to send an official here to validate them because taking all of them to the centre will be a hassle. I have been trying the number and I always put on hold and then the line gets cut off. Why go around claiming that you are fully accessible when you are not?", asks Prasad, the anger evident in her voice. "Just be upfront and say you are somewhat accessible. This is really disheartening and we are not jobless people that we can keep trying the number all day long".

It's not the regular public, even disability rights activists are struggling to reach election officials to address the issue. TMN Deepak, Founder, 3 December Movement, is among the leaders who has been working closely with the ECI office in Chennai.

Even I have had no success in accessing 1950. The number does not connect. This cannot be the case. Why does the Chief Election Commissioner make statements like disabled people will be enrolled at the doorstep when you cannot even ensure access to a helpline? The Chief Election Officer of Tamil Nadu is not even meeting us. - TMN Deepak, Founder 3 December Movement

Sentiments shared by Gnana Bharti of the Disability Rights Association of India (DRAI, who says the EC must live up to its promises to ensure inclusive elections. "Two months ago when we met the Chief Electoral Officer, he promised us support if we called the helpline. Now the situation is such that the number gets disconnected after two steps. We are not giving up and will call him for help".

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