Accessibility December 11, 2020
Kerala’s disabled voters give mixed reviews on accessibility aspect of first phase of elections
The local body elections have begun in Kerala. Voters with disabilities hope for better and enhanced facilities to be introduced. The first phase got over on 10 December and disabled voters have mixed reviews about accessibility features at polling booths.
The first phase of Kerala’s local body elections began on 10 December. As political parties are competing to mark their leadership in the state, many promises given to disabled community still remains unfulfilled. This year too, voters with disabilities point out how polling booths were largely inaccessible. Voting is a constitutional right which is often denied to the disabled community merely due to government apathy.
The plight of disabled voters
Unni Maxx, a disability rights activist from Kerala who has been vocal about accessibility issues says, “I voted at a nearby library which did not have a ramp. So everyone had to lift me to enter and exit the booth. So there were no facilities for wheelchair users. I spoke to a few people who agreed to the same. Most of the polling booths are schools which already have existing ramps. Other than that, no special facilities were introduced for disabled since it is Panchayat elections. The responsibility is for local self-government departments”.
He further adds, “Past two elections had better facilities. I was part of introducing accessibility features at the booths. This year, there were facilities arranged for Covid patients, like going to their homes and help them cast votes, but none for disabled”.
Reeja Krishna, a wheelchair user is yet to vote. Elections in her Panchayat at Kozhikode are scheduled for next week. “For a disabled person to be able to vote independently is a proud moment. Voting is the right of every person. I came to know that ramp facilities are available at my polling booth and I’am eagerly awaiting. I’am not comfortable with people holding me or my wheelchair and carrying me to the booth”, she highlights.
Some good news
Rajeev Palluruthy, a leading disability rights activist from Kerala is a wheelchair user. He never misses the chance to cast his vote being a law abiding citizen. This time too Rajeev, who hails from Palluruthy in Kochi, was amongst the first voters in his booth. Talking about accessibility, Rajeev says that he cast his vote inside a school which had a slope. So he could enter into the booth without hassles. The center being on the ground floor was a boon.
“Election commission had issued an order that all booths must be made accessible for disabled. Since this time it were local elections, responsibility was handed over to state government. They did a decent job. The order states that facilities must be given to blind people and others with physical limitations. So I believe they have done whatever they could”, he says.
Biju Paul, a wheelchair user from Thrissur was content with facilities provided at his polling booth. “There was a wheelchair ramp, or I would call a slope at my polling booth. But that was not in the scientific ramp ratio. I needed someone to help me push my wheelchair from behind. A wheelchair user must be able to independently use the ramp if they are installed properly. Implementing all these features again depends on each Panchayats”, he says.
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