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Voting largely inaccessible in 4th phase for disabled people

The fourth phase of 2019 Lok Sabha elections took place in 9 states yesterday. The states that went to poll are Bihar, West Bengal Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir.

Sadly the voting experience was largely uncomfortable for voters with disability despite Elections Commission's promise to make elections accessible for all.

Inaccessible polling booths, lack of wheelchairs, ramps, volunteers and the lack of sensitization among booth officials were the most common problems faced by the disabled voters.

Many polling booths were set up at first floors making them a huge hurdle for voters with mobility related issues.

Satyaprakash Tiwari is an International Para sports person and wheelchair user. He shared his polling experience from a polling booth in Ghatkopar east, a suburb in Mumbai. .

I had expected that unlike previous elections, this time things will be different, however, everything remained the same and there was no improvement. The ramp at the polling station was incorrectly constructed and was unusable for wheelchair users. The path leading to the ramp was also not safe. What is the use of making a ramp that cannot be accessed by wheelchair users without taking help from others? Satyaprakash Tiwari, International Para sports person

In case of polling stations set up at first floors, the option offered to people with disability who wish to cast their votes is to be lifted up the stairs by volunteers or other voters. Not only is this unsafe for the voters, it is also not a dignified option and is an extremely uncomfortable way to cast vote.

Here is what Jasmina Khanna, a Software tester had to say about her voting experience.

"I went to cast vote. Polling officers were very courteous. Polling booth was had ramps. But a few concerns about the polling booth. They didn't allow me to park the car inside the premises even though there was enough space. There were many senior citizens were finding it difficult to walk to the booth from the gate. I didn't see any wheelchair kept at the booth. Since I had registered through PWD app my voting room was kept on the ground floor. There were many rooms on the higher floors without lift.

A major issue is that the ramps are made just for the sake of formality without taking into consideration their practical use by wheelchair users.

A ramp made without referring to the proper guidelines is also danger to the safety of wheelchair users and may even cause damage to their mobility devices.

Disability Rights Alliance- DRA India tweeted, Replying to @Ivy_90 @milinddeora @ECISVEEP We've highlighted the problem of first floor polling stations and @CEO_Maharashtra has assured there will be 4 people to carry voters up the flights of steps at each such station. While this is unsafe and undesirable, it's still an option. Is this facility not there? #Votability

Dr Ketna L Mehta, the Founder Trustee of Nina Foundation had a positive voting experience and she shared it with NewzHook.

"My brother and sister in law accompanied me by car to the nearby polling station in Sion, Mumbai around 2.30 pm. The entire police contingent and government staff were so cooperative, smiling and helpful. A special mention of proactiveness displayed by Mr Ravindra Koli, Health Department ( Malaria) KEM Hospital. As soon as he saw my brother helping me out of the car with my walkerat the entrance of the BMC School in Sion he came forward and enquired if I needed a wheelchair and pronto brought a brand new, in good condition Easy Care wheelchair. There was a well-constructed appropriate ramp with grooves and he deftly maneuvered me inside my polling station no 120. All the six ladies and gentlemen were smiling, quick and responsive. They quickly did their tasks and I was placed in front of the EVM's to vote. Within minutes I could comfortably exercise my franchise. On request they permitted photographs as it's great to share positive news about my wow experience. "

Ritika Sahni, Founder-Trustee of Trinayani said, The feedback I received from voters with disability was both positive and negative. What I observed is that most people with mobility issues faced ordeals while voting due to inaccessible polling stations and lack of proper facilities like ramps and wheelchairs. These booths also lacked in sensitized officials who made the experience even worse. While at few polling booths the arrangement was proper and the disabled voters were taken care of giving a positive turn to the whole process. "

Some voters who had registered with the PWD app got the necessary aid, while others did not, even after feeding all essentials details in the app. Ritika Sahni added.

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