Accessibility November 5, 2020
Insufficient wheelchairs, inaccessible booths affect voting experience for Bihar’s disabled population
Two phases of the Bihar Assembly elections are over. This is the first state election in Bihar after the enactment of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 and many promises were made by the Election Commission to make it accessible. Newz Hook brings you the ground reality.
A first-time voter, Chandan Kumar was looking forward to the state elections. But on Tuesday, when the second phase of voting took place, this Patna resident was in for a rude shock.
‘There was no wheelchair at the polling centre although we had been told that arrangements would be made for disabled people”, says Chandan. “My brother had to carry me into the booth”.
Free pick up and drop off facilities to booths, Braille voter slips. accessible voting booths and online booking of wheelchairs – these were the promises made by the Election Commission for voters with disabilities and the elderly. This is the first state election in Bihar since the enactment of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act 2016.
However, the ground reality has been quite different. on both days.
Key promises unmet
Patna has fared better than other parts of the state according to Dr Shivajee Kumar, Disability Commissioner, Bihar.
We have got complaints regarding accessibility barriers especially from rural areas. The facilities provided there are pathetic. No transport arrangements were made on voting day for disabled people. Volunteers were not present at polling booths to assist elderly and disabled people. There are images of people being carried into the booths. – Dr Shivajee Kumar, Disability Commissioner, Bihar
Another complaint relates to postal ballots. The Election Commission had said this facility would be given to voters who are unable to travel out of their homes. ”Postal ballot forms were not widely distributed, and not enough awareness was created. Many people were confused and unable to vote”, adds Dr Kumar.
Dinkar Kumar Gupta was among the many voters to be disappointed. “I have difficulty in walking and had applied for a pickup and drop off, but no vehicle turned up. I had to walk from my home to the voting booth and there was no wheelchair there either”.
These lapses have been highlighted by disabled activist Harsh Raj in a letter to H.R Srinivasa, Chief Electoral Officer, Bihar and KVS Rao, Director, Department for Empowerment of People with Disabilities (DEPwD). Harsh is part of a research team from the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, whose focus area is disability issues.
“In most places the CISF constables on duty were helping disabled voters enter the booths as there were no ramps”, says Harsh, who has a disability in both legs. “There were some booths with wheelchairs but other arrangements to enter the booths were missing”>
Recommendations for final phase
The letter asks authorities to take steps to ensure the third and final voting phase is accessible. These include:
- A monitoring committee be set up in association with the State Disability Commissioner’s Office to monitor the accessibility of voting booths.
- This committee should include at least one person from each disability identified under the RPWD Act 2016.
- All offices in premises of the Election Commission must be completely accessible.
- That a report be prepared from the findings of this committee highlighting the achievements and challenges ahead in ensuring accessible elections.
Dr Kumar says facilities are improving for disabled voters but more needs to be done.
“No Braille postal ballots were provided this time which is critical for the safety of visually impaired voters especially during the coronavirus pandemic. We have to work on ensuring better facilities for disabled voters given that Bihar has the second largest population of persons with disabilities in India”.
Watch in Sign Language
Support us to make NewzHook Sustainable – Make a Contribution Today
We need your continued support to enable us work towards Changing Attitudes towards Disability. Help us in our attempt to share the voices of people with disabilities that enable them to participate in the society on an equal footing!