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Accessibility observers to lend a helping hand to disabled voters in 2019 general elections

In a first, the Election Commission of India (ECI) is all set to deploy Accessibility Observers (AO) for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. This is to ensure there is maximum participation by people with disabilities in the voting process. The ECI has appointed divisional commissioners as accessibility observers in most of the states across India. If there are no divisional commissioners available, then officers equivalent to the rank will be assigned the duty.

The ECI has been working on deploying accessibility observers since 2018. These observers will work along with the general election officers and police to ensure that disabled voters reach polling booths in large numbers. The ECI has sent letters to chief electoral officers and chief secretaries in all the states and union territories.

Prarthana Unkalkar Kaul, Co-Founder, GiftAbled, believes appointing AOs is a great idea.

Krishna, who is part of our NGO has cerebral palsy and is a wheelchair user. He has been participating in elections for the last many years despite the difficulties in accessing the booths but there are many other disabled people who are unable to do so. In Karnataka, NGOs like Mobility India and Astha are working closely with the government to promote inclusive elections so we hope more disabled people cast their votes this time. It is our right and duty to do so. -Prarthana Unkalkar Kaul, Co-Founder, GiftAbled

An AO will look into how well facilities are provided to people with disabilities, including drinking water and disabled-friendly washrooms at polling booths. These initiatives have been welcomed by disability rights groups.

"The government has taken up many initiatives to make upcoming elections accessible and inclusive and that's great", says Rajeev Palluruthy, Secretary, All Kerala Wheelchair Rights Federation (AKWRF). "They are even bringing bedridden people who do not have mobility to cast votes. We have received letters from state officials requesting us to provide details on number of wheelchairs that are needed along with other facilities. Deploying accessibility officers is definitely going to be of great help to many disabled voters. We have to wait and see how well this will be implemented".

This is the first time accessibility has been undertaken in such a massive scale across India in the general elections and while things may go wrong, it will offer useful lessons for the future.

ALSO READ: NGOs partner with government to make accessible election a reality in Puducherry

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