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Mumbai: Election Commission gives an extra push to make voting accessible for disabled people

On 21 October the Election Commission of India will hold elections in the two legislative assemblies of Maharashtra. In keeping with the mission of making them free, fair and accessible, election officials in Mumbai have announced a series of steps.

On 21 October, voters across Maharashtra will get a chance to have their say in who will govern the state for the next term. To make sure that 'no voter is left behind', the Election Commission is going the extra mile to include every eligible voter in Mumbai, including voters with disabilities.

Like in the Lok Sabha elections, disabled voters have been asked to register on the PwD App started specifically for voters with disabilities to register their name as well as details like nature of disability and requirement of transport and wheelchairs at the polling station. Officials are also visiting voters with disabilities at their homes to ask for details.

Filmmaker Rustom Irani, who uses a wheelchair, was visited by a local polling official. "For the first time, I had someone visit my home to ask about my disability details etc. so they can offer an accessible booth. It's great to see that they are going through the list of registered voters with disabilities. This is a first and quite amazing actually. So far, all my voting experiences have been quite horrendous and I hope this is the start of a change for the better".

Farogh Mukadam, an Election Officer based in Mumbai, said all efforts are on to ensure that every eligible voter with disability gets to the polling station easily. About 3,000 disabled voters registered on the app for the Lok Sabha elections, way lower than the Census figure of about 60,000 disabled voters and efforts are being made to ensure no one is left out.

There are some changes in this election exercise. The EC insisted that all polling stations be placed on the ground floor in buildings where there are no lifts and we have done that in Mumbai and Thane. In Mumbai, there are 600 polling stations on the ground floor and in the suburbs its over 1,900. The same exercise has been carried out in Thane. There will also be dolis at every polling stations to carry people with locomotor disabilities. - Farogh Mukadam, Election Officer, Mumbai

The Social Welfare Department, Maharashtra government has identified about 975 voters with locomotor disabilities who are eligible to vote in Mumbai and care will be taken that they can come to the polling station and go back to their homes comfortably. Wheelchair-accessible taxis by Ezy Mov will be deployed and the Spastics Society of India is providing mini-buses that are easy to board.

"We have currently assured 14 cars for the entire day and we are awaiting instructions from the EC regarding the locations", said Benet D'cunha, Co-founder, Ey Mov. "There have been lot of learnings from the Lok Sabha elections and this time we will have trial dry runs and connects with voters with disabilities much before the day of voting". He promises a more seamless version this time. "Last elections we ferried 454 voters with disabilities. This year we are planning to cross the figure of 800 disabled voters with better coordination and full optimisation of the vehicle."

This time, every polling station will have a team of volunteers to assist voters with disabilities with all the help they need. One concern as of now is the low registration. "So far 3,000 voters with disabilities have registered", said Mukadam, "when the Census figures are much higher. People are also reluctant to mark themselves as disabled. The good news is there are a higher number of disabled women voters this time round".

Apart from the PwD App, the EC will be announcing additional helpline numbers in a few days to assist more voters with disabilities.

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