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Accessible voting drive in Mumbai City gets a helping hand from NGO VCAN

In a major push to the Accessible Election exercise, the Chief Electoral Officer, Maharashtra has announced a series of measures to enable disabled and elderly voters to exercise their franchise in a hassle-free manner.

One of the measures taken by CEO Maharashtra is to provide special transport to disabled people. In Mumbai, this measure is being done by NGO V Citizens Action Network (VCAN), the CSO partner of CEO Maharashtra. VCAN has taken the services of Ezy Mov Solutions Pvt. Ltd, India's first wheelchair accessible taxi service.

Since the 2004 assembly elections in Maharashtra, accessibility has been an aspect of every election held in Mumbai city, but the efforts were piecemeal and led by civil society organizations. "This is the first time that it is being pushed so actively, says disability rights activist Nilesh Singit, who is the Maharashtra icon for the EC's accessible election campaign.

It was Singit who way back in 2004 filed a PIL in the Bombay High Court asking for all polling stations in Maharashtra to be made disabled-friendly. This was after late disability rights advocate Javed Abidi filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking the same for polling stations across India.

After Singit's petition, the High Court intervened saying that unless steps were taken to make the elections accessible, they would have to be postponed.

Multiple facilities

For the first time in this general election, a special transport pick-up and drop-off facility for disabled voters has been introduced, which is being enabled by the app launched by the ECI specifically for people with disabilities.

People with disabilities who have registered on the app will be mapped as per their polling stations, says Indrani Malkani, of VCAN.

Those voters who have registered themselves as disabled have been mapped so the vehicles can transport them from home to the polling station and back. This is for Mumbai City district as we have a limited number of Ezy Mov vehicles. If we can divert some vehicles, they will be deployed in the suburbs. This will depend on the logistics. - Indrani Malkani, Chairperson, V Citizens Action Network

One of the key challenges to the mapping exercise is that not all voters who are disabled have marked themselves as such. "This makes the mapping hard as we need to know where they are, so it becomes important to propagate that they should mark themselves as disabled in the PwD app, says Malkani. "Those without access to the app can mark themselves so on paper format which will be provided to them by the respective Booth Level Officers (BLOs), she added.

Ezy Mov, which has a presence in Mumbai and Goa, stepped into the picture after reading about the accessible elections exercise. "Since we have vehicles that are wheelchair accessible, we thought of offering our services and approached VCAN, says Bennet D'cunha, co-founder, Ezy Mov Solutions Private Ltd..

Ezy Mov is offering 14 vehicles from its fleet for voting day from on 29 April from 7 AM to 6 PM. "These will run within Mumbai city limits, and we are looking at pooling, so more people are catered to, says D'cunha.

All election-related information, including details of the transport facilities etc.is available on the dedicated page Election 2019 on www.togethervcan.in.

Ezy Mov has offered their dedicated call center number to answer all questions related to accessible transport and will be exclusively operable for the purpose of Election Day, nearer the date. All details will also be available on www.togethervcan.in the Election 2019 page.

The call center facility is a free service and disabled voters can call here - 022-49766573.

Once the voters reach the polling station, they will be met with by two BLOs dedicated to helping people with disabilities. "They will be taken charge of by the BLOs at the polling station and there will be volunteers from the NSS and Scouts helping out as well, says Malkani.

The CEO Maharashtra Office through all District Offices, is imparting special training to all the polling staff on how to help disabled voters according to their specific needs. Each district has a welfare officer as well who will overlook these facilities to ensure the BLOs and volunteers are doing their job.

This is the first time such a comprehensive exercise has been undertaken and the learnings here will be useful to make them more seamless and hassle-free in the future.

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