Karnataka govt introduces accessibility features for elections, disability groups raise questions
With Lok Sabha elections 2019 fast approaching, government is doing everything to ensure full participation of voters. Hence, people with all kinds of disabilities are going to be provided with facilities to go to polling booths and cast their votes. The Karnataka state government and Election Commission of India (ECI) have promised that they will clear all road blocks and ensure ensure maximum participation of disabled people.
In Karnataka alone, there are over 4 lakh people with disabilities. Reportedly, the state government has introduced 35,000 wheelchairs, 2213 sign language interpreters and at least 52,000 magnifying glasses for the upcoming elections. Disabled people will also be provided with more than 30,000 assistants who will reach out to them for all kinds of help regarding polling. Also, all the booths will be at the ground floor of buildings so that disabled people can easily access them. Disability rights groups and people from the community points out that this is a great step towards inclusion. But there are many questions that are simultaneously raised.
Sunil Jain is the Founder of Aastha, an NGO that reaches out for making elections in Karnataka accessible. Jain says that ECI's accessibility features, most of them, that were promised during last year's elections never happened. Hence, he has launched a Google Accessibility Survey where people can check out on the accessibility features of their nearby polling booths, answer to poll questions and update them online. Jain hopes that this accessibility survey will be of great help to disabled voters.
ECI has introduced a helpline number 1950 where disabled people can call and talk about what all facilities they require at booths. According to them, even transport facilities are provided. At Aastha, we are trying to make more disabled voters aware about all this so that they can easily cast their votes. ECI has promised that all polling booths will be made accessible with Braille and ramps to name a few of the features. But we will have to wait and see how well this is going to be implemented. We are hoping to complete our accessibility survey before 31 March. At least 200 polling booths in South Bengaluru will be covered under the survey-Sunil Jain, Founder, Aastha
Apart from all that, ECI has also promised separate polling booths for disabled people. There are over 58,000 polling booths across Karnataka. This is definitely not the first time that state governments are promising accessibility features. Will the government and ECI keep up their promises? Disabled voters are keen to know.
Shivprasad S is the Vice-Captain of Indian Wheelchair Cricket Team. Shiv ensures that he casts is vote for every election.
"Even when you are on a wheelchair, no officials come forward to ask for help at polling booths. That is the kind of insensitivity towards disabled voters. In fact, there is no clear assessment as in where exactly the accessibility features must be introduced, says Shiv.
Elections in the state will happen on 18 and 23 of April. Results will be announced on 23 May.