Political participation key to lifting barriers for disabled people, say experts at 5th Know Your Rights Webinar Series
Over the years thanks to the push from disability rights activists the accessible election exercise has come under the spotlight. But substantial barriers remain and ways to overcome them was the focus of the fifth webinar in the Know Your Rights Webinar Series organised by the Javed Abidi Foundation, Disability Rights India Foundation and Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.
From Braille voter slips to sign language interpreters, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has announced many important steps as part of the Accessible Election exercise.
How do these initiatives translate on the ground? What are the barriers people with disabilities continue to face when it comes to casting a vote? Questions raised in the fifth webinar Political Participation and Accessible Elections held as part of the Know Your Rights Webinar Series.
Barriers faced by PwD in political participation
From lack of ramps to wheelchairs at polling booths to poor awareness, the barriers are multiple and basic. Then there are bigger issues like the exclusion of voters with intellectual and psycho-social disabilities.
Varun Sharma, volunteer with the Javed Abidi Foundation (JAF), one of the organising groups, shared his experience while working with the office of the Chief Commissioner of Persons with Disabilities during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Speaking to the audience Varun said the so-called accessible voter booths were not so accessible. “There were no sign language interpreters present, even the e-rickshaws used for pick up and drop facility were not accessible. Government officials were so preoccupied with other responsibilities they did not focus on the sensitisation sessions that were held for them”.
Another big issue was that many persons with disabilities could not vote due to technical issues in registration. “It was a pity because a concept was put in place but there were so many glitches in its implementation”, added Varun.
The two panel speakers for this session were Smitha Sadashivan, Member, Disability Rights Alliance India (DRAI) and Arman Ali. Executive Director, National Centre for Promotion of Employment of Disabled People (NCPEDP).
Policy vs implementation
Smitha agreed with Varun but also highlighted the advocacy efforts that went into making the elections accessible. For barriers to be resolved, guidelines are needed but so is proper implementation.
We need to further fine tune the system together with the Election Commission of India. Any voter with disability can enrol if he/she is 18 years or older, Indian and can mark himself/herself as a person with disability. Every polling both should have standard ramp and handrail, good lighting, toilets, and should be Braille accessible. People with disabilities should be given priority queues, volunteers, parking facilities, and volunteers. – Smitha Sadashivan, Member, Disability Rights Alliance, India
Disabled youth must assume leadership roles
The real change would come when people with disabilities are not seen as mere charity cases, said Arman. “80% of the world is non-disabled. This majority can vote and form the government. Once the government does the economic development of the majority then it uses the leftovers to help people with disabilities”.
Arman urged the disabled community to emerge as leaders. “They must participate in general issues such as Citizenship Amendment Act, education policies, children’s or women’s issues. Disability is not a homogenous group but cuts across different groups and the community should be involved in all these issues”.
Smitha agreed and added that it was important for disabled people to get into top positions. “Only when we get there can we change the ground structure”.
How does the change happen? For that bring people together, collaborate with the government/local administration”, added Arman. “You don’t need to be in Delhi. The change will come when those people in villages and towns will collaborate”.
In the audience was Sawai Singh Jattu, a Master’s student who has cerebral palsy. He shared his vision of what a true leader looks like. “In my mind a leader does not just inspire, motivate, or influence but they create a friendly environment for growth. There is a need for leadership development so that youth connect with each other to learn how to achieve their goals collectively and create a positive impact on society”.
The aim of the discussion, said Shameer Rishad, Convenor, JAF, was to encourage and motivate disabled youth to look at active political participation. “Political participation is a key strategy for youth with disabilities to emerge in leadership roles and advocate for their rights themselves. Youth with disabilities must become more aware and active citizens, raise their voice about issues impacting people with disabilities”.
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