Major efforts underway to make voting accessible for disabled people in Delhi elections
Over 37% new voters with disabilities have been added to the electoral list for the upcoming Delhi Assembly election. Special measures are being taken to ensure that all disabled people can cast their vote. This includes postal ballot facility for those who cannot come to the polling station due to severe disability. That’s our focus on #StoryOfTheWeek.
“Every effort should be made to ensure maximum inclusiveness so that every PwD and 80+ plus elector comes to the polling station and casts their vote”.
Those are the words from the office of the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), Delhi ahead of the Assembly election in the state. Delhi goes to the polls on 8 February and results will be declared three days later on 11 February. The number of new voters with disabilities is 37% more as compared to last year’s general election. Election officials are working closely with disability rights advocates and NGOs to include every voter with disability.
Specific arrangements made for every disability type
- For blind and low vision voters, there will be voter slips, Electors Photo Identity Cards (EPIC), dummy ballot sheets and assistance guides in Braille. Twenty-two Braille experts will be placed in each district for verification of dummy ballot sheet during printing and later if needed.
- For deaf and hard of hearing people, there will be sign language interpreters and deaf experts at the top 85 locations where deaf voters are registered.
- Accessible toilets to be made available. Where this is not possible mobile toilets have to be arranged at stations with largest number of registered voters. Ramps in good condition to be made available as well.
- Wheelchair and other facilities at all stations for disabled voters and senior citizens regardless of whether or not they are registered in the electoral roll.
- And for the first time postal ballot facility for those voters who cannot move out of their homes due to severe disability.
These are just some examples of the scale of arrangements made. Disability rights advocate Dr Satendra Singh, member of the State Steering Committee on Accessible Election (SSCAE), isclosely involved in the exercise.
All districts will have PwD icons to create awareness. I am handling Central Delhi myself. In addition, pick up and drop facility is being provided and now for the first time Delhi will see the extension of postal ballot to voters with disabilities elderly over 80 years. Delhi being the Capital brings innovation to the forefront. During the last general elections, we saw the first booth manned by people with disabilities in South Delhi. The transgender community has participated in awareness campaigns too. The postal ballot facility piloted in a few polling stations will be adopted in the whole state. – Dr Satendra Singh, Member, State Steering Committee on Accessible Election
Many of the difficulties experienced in the accessibility exercise during the general elections have led to learnings this time. For instance, not relying on the Election Commission of India’s PwD App alone for pick up and drop off facilities. “We shall not be relying alone on the app as last time the data was not synced as it is under ECI control”, points out Dr Singh. “This time people can avail of the facility through website, SMS, and the helpline even if they have not marked themselves through the app”.
SIGN LANGUAGE VIDEOS FOR DEAF COMMUNITY
Among the organisations working with the CEO to make the process accessible for deaf voters is the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and Association of Sign Language Interpreters (ASLI). ASLI is conducting massive sensitisation campaigns not only among voters but everyone manning the booths.
“In the last election we faced some issues with sign language interpreters entering the booths”, says Preeti Sapra, General Secretary, ASLI. “This is because policemen manning them were not sensitised to the needs of deaf voters”. This time ASLI is sensitising the entire polling booth including policemen stationed outside. “We started the sensitisation campaign on 13 January and will finish on 3 February”, adds Sapra.
ASLI and NAD are also creating videos to sensitise deaf voters about the PwD App. These will be uploaded on YouTube as well as other social media sites. “Much of the information related to the accessible election exercise does not reach the deaf community”, says Sapra. “The community is active on YouTube and Facebook so we are translating the PwD App into sign language because not everyone in the community can read and write”.
The efforts are certainly in the right direction and the approach will show the way to other states. Dr Singh urges the disabled community to turn up at the booths to cast their votes and not rely on postal ballot unless absolutely necessary.
“Nothing can compare to the joy of participating actively in the festival of democracy at polling booths” says Dr Singh. “This will also ensure that ECI will continue with its undivided attention in future elections to accessible elections. The challenge remains mindsets”.