Poll officials to help disabled

MUMBAI: The city’s voting infrastructure is ill-equipped to cater to differently-abled persons in Thursday’s civic elections.

Election officials admitted that 28 of the 8,378 voting booths are on the first floor and are inaccessible by lift or ramps. While electronic voting machines have been made Braille-friendly , visually-impaired persons will still need assistance in matching candidate symbols and numbers before casting their votes.

“It is unfortunate that the lists of candidates will not be in Braille. It doesn’t speak highly of our democracy that visually-impaired persons will need assistance to vote,” said Raman Shankar who heads the National Association for the Blind (NAB), pointing out that such assistance was open to manipulation. Estimating that there are 4,000 visually-impaired voters in the city, he said NAB had been approached during the parliamentary and state assembly elections as well as the Alibaug and Pen polls to supply Braille stickers and candidate lists.

Physically disabled voters and incapacitated senior citizens will be inconvenienced in areas like Marine Lines, Mohammed Ali Road, parts of Chembur, Mankhurd and Govandi , where booths do not have disabled-friendly access.

“The approach to disabled persons as an electorate is apathetic . The issues never make it to political manifestos and voting infrastructure reflects this apathy,” said disabled rights activist Nilesh Singit, who had championed for his booth in Matunga to be on the ground floor during the last state elections.

Disabled persons point out that governance machinery remains apathetic despite judicial orders demanding inclusive facilities. The Supreme Court had directed states to ensure ramps at booths and Disability Rights Group had filed a PIL in the Bombay High Court for implementation of the provisions.

The authorities insisted there were constraints to making areas disabled-friendly in highly-congested areas. “Most booths have access. There will be assistants at the 28 booths that are on the first floor without lifts,” said S S Shinde, joint municipal commissioner in-charge of elections . He said officials will assist visually-impaired persons with lists in booths too.

Madhavi Rajadhyaksha, Times of India, Bombay

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