Needed: disabled-friendly polling booths

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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.

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.

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