Showing posts with label accessible voting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label accessible voting. Show all posts

Monday, April 7, 2014

Most Polling Booths inaccessible in Bangalore

There are several such voters who can do with some facilities from the election
authorities. File photo: S.S.Kumar
There are several such voters who can do with some facilities
from the election authorities. File photo: S.S.Kumar (The Hindu)
Most of the 7,700 polling booths in Bangalore are seen to be not accessible to those with physical disabilities.

A middle-aged, physically challenged woman came to exercise her franchise at the Government Urdu Primary School in Palace Guttahalli here during the Assembly elections in May 2013. The wheelchair-bound woman could not enter the polling booth as there was no ramp. Eventually, her son and husband arranged for a plastic chair, eased her into it and lifted her to go inside the booth, after which she cast her vote.

Most of the 7,700 polling booths in Bangalore are seen to be not accessible to those with physical disabilities. Though the Election Commission has promised to make arrangements to help such people cast their votes, Chief Electoral Officer, Karnataka, Anil Kumar Jha admitted that it may be difficult to ensure such facilities at booths located on the various floors of a building.

Sunil Jain, founder of Astha, an organisation working for people with disabilities, said that the authorities, when it is difficult to make such booths accessible to such people, should make efforts to at least identify booths with a large concentration of people with disabilities so that necessary arrangements can be made there. With the 2011 Census identifying 1.8 per cent of the population in Bangalore as living with disabilities and NGOs estimating their percentage at 2.7, Mr. Jain, himself wheelchair-bound, said that persons with disabilities constitute several thousands of Bangalore’s 76 lakh electorate. In addition, there may be several persons with temporarily disabilities that they have suffered in accidents.
Policemen help a voter with disability at a polling booth in Virugambakkam. Photo: S.S.Kumar
Policemen help a voter with disability at a polling
booth in Virugambakkam. Photo: S.S.Kumar (The Hindu)

Astha has written to Mr. Jha urging him to launch a drive through SMS under which those with disabilities can send their Voter ID number to a designated mobile number and indicate their nature of disability. Also, it has cited an initiative taken up by the Chief Electoral Officer of Delhi, providing for registration of those with disabilities and their nature of disability on a website and urged Mr. Jha to replicate this experiment in the State.

Through this, Mr. Jain said, the authorities can generate data of persons with disabilities booth-wise and take alleviating steps. In response, Mr. Jha said that he would examine the suggestion made by Astha. But he was sceptical about implementing it as elections are barely two weeks away.

Mr. Jain, however, said that a deadline for registration can be fixed and the data can be shared with officials in-charge of booths designated for those with disabilities to make necessary arrangements for such voters.

Mr. Jha said that instructions have been given to election officials to give preference to those with disabilities when they come to vote. “They will not have to wait or stand in a queue,” he added.

Though all Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) are Braille-enabled, Section 49 N of the Conduct of Election Rules 1961 allows a blind or a physically infirm person who is unable to recognise the symbol on the ballot paper/EVM, to be accompanied by another person.

Mr. Jain said that the Election Commission should begin compiling data of persons with disabilities on its rolls by including a provision for registration in Form 6 submitted at the time of enrolment.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Delhi Election Commission plans for inclusive voting in Delhi

EC makes ‘special’ plans for inclusive voting in Delhi 

Facilities such as wheelchairs will also be made available at polling booths. 

To ensure that the differently abled are included in the polling process, the Delhi Chief Electoral Office is looking at providing special training to polling booth staff so that they are sensitive to the needs of various categories of the differently abled.

Facilities such as wheelchairs will also be made available at polling booths.

A meeting to chalk out an action plan for the same was held on Thursday. It was attended by representatives of various NGOs and civil society organisations such as Muskaan, National Association of the Deaf, Action for Ability Development and Inclusion, Koshish Special School, among others.

“After detailed discussion with NGOs and civil society organisations working with the differently abled, we got feedback about the facilities that would be required at the polling booths. We will be working to address the requirements of the different categories of differently abled. This would include behavioural training for our polling booth staff,’’ Chief Electoral Officer Vijay Dev said.

Under the project, the NGOs will first train the master trainers of the EC.

“We have 50,000 polling booth staff. To impart training to them, we will prepare audio-visual presentations to give them a wider understanding on how to help the differently abled of different categories. The needs of a visually-impaired person is very different from that of a hearing-impaired person,’’ an official said, adding that the idea was to prepare a template which the staff could follow.

Besides this, signage and  posters will also be put up at polling booths to facilitate the differently abled.

“We are also looking at allowing attendants to assist them in casting votes,’’ an official said.
Officials said ramps would be placed to ensure seamless access.

“We are looking at making wheelchairs available at all polling booths,’’ Dev said. The EC will coordinate with civic agencies to ensure proper infrastructure at the booths.

“…it is a welcome move that someone in the government had decided to include people with disabilities. Achieving the end goal might be difficult given the fact that there are only 20 days to elections. But if we work as a team, a lot can be achieved. Infrastructure modification will be required. There are 19 kinds of disabilities which are listed and each has a different requirement…,’’ Neera Chawla, deputy director and principal  of Muskaan, said.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Delhi: Most polling booths not disabled-friendly

New Delhi, 12 March 2014

People with disabilities might face serious difficulties while casting their vote in the upcoming general elections as a number of polling booths across the Capital neither have accessible washrooms nor reserved parking, an RTI application has revealed.

 A 2007 Supreme Court judgment ruled that special facilities need to be put in place to make polling booths more accessible for persons with disabilities.

 Not to speak of sign language interpreter, some of the polling booth organisers even replied that they could not entertain people with mental or psychosocial disability as there is no such provision in law, said RTI activist Satendra Singh, a doctor at the University College of Medical Sciences (UCMS) and Guru Tegh Bahadur (GTB) Hospital, Delhi.

 Also, there is no record of the number of disabled voters in India or Delhi and no information on complaints and action taken on violations of the Supreme Court's order to provide facilities in polling booths for disabled voters.

 While replying to the RTI query of Dr Singh, two assembly constituencies (ACs) 2 and 16 said there were no arrangements for washrooms at all for disabled voters. Ten ACs replied there were arrangements of washrooms but these too were found to be inaccessible for such voters when cross checked by Dr Singh, who himself is a person with disability.

 "None of the washrooms are accessible for wheel chair users. Even hospitals lack accessible toilets," said Dr Singh.

 He said since the majority of the venues (polling booths) are schools and colleges, they rarely have ramps, forget about toilets with changes. Only two ACs had accessible washrooms.

 "The RTI info gathered from 70 assembly constituencies (ACs). Since the same will be used for the seven parliamentary constituencies (PCs) in next month’s general elections, it becomes of paramount importance to highlight the violations of 2007 Supreme Court judgment and inadequacies of CEO Delhi in protecting electoral rights of persons with disabilities," said Dr Singh.

 More than five ACs have no reserved parking for disabled electors despite having enough space, while four ACs said there were no provision for extra queues for such voters.

 When asked whether people with mental or psychosocial disability are allowed to vote, six ACs replied in the negative. Besides, two of the ACs, gave identical answers ~ "Since person with mental disability cannot be an elector, the question of voting does not arise.”

 Dr Singh, however, said, in the eyes of the law, every person (including mentally ill, mentally challenged, medically ill, hospitalised, incarcerated) over the age of 18 is fully competent unless it is declared otherwise by a court of law.

 "If a person's name is in the voter list s/he can vote irrespective of whether s/he suffers from a mental illness or not. Only if a court of law declares a person incompetent then the exclusion applies," said Dr Singh.
 Chandni Chowk, which is a VIP PC, replied that all facilities have been provided.

 Dr Singh termed the situation as alarming for the Election Commission of India (EC) and Delhi State Election Commission (DSEC), as the elections for the 16th Lok Sabha are just four weeks away.

Source: The Statesman Mr. Chandan Prakash Singh (

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Making The Election Process Accessible to all - an out of box rethinking is necessary

Dear Friends,

Here is my article on making the election process in India accessible to all that I wrote today:

India has recently voted in an unprecedented election wherein Indian National Congress emerged as the strongest and the single largest party though with not a clear majority. The overall voting percentage that is being put forward is 50%. I am amazed that despite India being the IT giant, with resources in hand why do we still have to follow the means of the bye gone era where voters lined up for several hours to cast their vote!! I learnt that within my close circle so many couldn't vote. Few travelling, few had official trips & one couple was so old that they couldn't venture out of the house at all. I also learnt from my interaction that all those on poll duty are not able to vote – this includes sizable chunk of teachers and government employees and security forces put on election duty. Their right to vote is denied.

Access at Booths for voters with Disability
On the top of it, our friends in the Disability Sector too, without thinking out of box, campaigned & pressurized and advocated the Election Commission of India to make all the voter booths accessible to voters with disabilities based on a Supreme Court Verdict. That included providing EVMs with braille and ramps to access booths.

The feedback is mixed. At many places especially in rural India, no access was provided in terms of Ramps or braille enabled EVMs while at some places where it was provided, the blind voters did not know the braille!!!!

I am not negating the work, lobbying & successes that we as a sector achieved during this. But to bring home the larger question- Are we giving sufficient choices to our electorate - disabled or not?

Is that the only solution?
Will it suffice and make it accessible to all if we just focused on booths and EVMs in the name of equal rights for the voters with reduced mobility (I include elderly, disabled & those with fractured leg or back, sick and those not able to move out due to any pre-occupation or condition in the definition of reduced mobility) ?

The fact remains that 50% of India couldn't vote. I would say “could not” and not “did not” because the election system is still not friendly to people. I can not vote with comfort still, leave aside those experiencing disability, sickness, busy work schedules or simply have other personal priorities.

Some Solutions
I was just looking at how a multinational bank services its customers. There will always be few who prefer to visit bank and do the transactions – may be due to any reason like illiteracy, bank is closer, not very IT friendly etc. While there are others who use ATMs, Internet Banking for all their transactions, few pay their installments by EMIs and give instructions for payment of utility bills few who give bearers cheques!

To me, this throws ample of examples how voting system could have more choices to facilitate the voting system for the diversity of citizenry. While voting at accessible Booths should continue, more options like email, SMS, (on the lines of phone banking and internet banking), postal ballots should be given to citizens to choose from so that no one is denied his right to vote as a citizen.

For those few who are not able to step out of the houses due to old age or severe disabilities or sickness and yet not friendly with the modern means could be offered choices like the vehicle mounted EVMs (taking clue from mobile ATM Machines) and the same could even go to houses (on the lines of door to door Polio campaign). The voting process can be a week long for those opting email & SMSs and one day for those who physically vote on election booths. It is all the more possible when we have the citizen’s data base on Election Commission’s website, Photo ID cards have been issued and any body can check his data on the internet. Only thing we need to do is relate one email per person for those who are internet savvy. These are just few ideas thrown and I am sure many new could be though out.

Way Ahead
Also, firstly each Indian Citizen entitled to vote should be counted and identified - placing faces to the numbers - with proper identity proofs (biometrics, face recognition, eye recognition software could be used for data base. This would necessarily include identifying voters with disabilities to bring them in to the mainstream. Access to all including those experiencing disability should be an inbuilt feature in all such options.

If we have to become a strong democracy, India has to make enabling provisions that every one irrespective of the situations they are in - busy, out for work, out for wedding, sick at home, caring loved ones in the hospitals, posted at borders as a combatant in forces, experiencing reduced mobility or a disabling condition should be able to vote with equal comforts and with ample choices. I am hopeful that if implemented such ideas could generate 90% turn-out during poll process, for we are a vibrant democracy with maximum young people in the world!

Subhash Chandra Vashishth
Advocate-Disability Rights