CHENNAI: When Ummul Khair decided to select her candidate from the Electronic Voting Machine, she realised that the button to select to finalise her vote was too far to reach. Thus, the wheelchair user and advocate had to speak to officials about the issue and seek assistance before she was able to vote.
According to ECI data, around two lakh voters with disability will not be able to vote in the 2019 elections due to inaccessible polling stations, said Vaishnavi Jayakumar, member of the Disability Rights Alliance Vaishnavi, in a Twitter thread. Around 50,000 polling stations have no ramps, and data for 2.4 lakh polling stations out of around 7.5 lakh stations are not available.
“The ECI has announced a list of Assured Minimum Facilities (AMF) at each polling station, but Chennai is one of the cities that has not posted that data online. Although officials have told me that it is available online, we don’t have access to it,” said Jayakumar, who has been working closely with the Tamil Nadu State Election Commission for the last decade.
The categories under AMFs on the Election Commission of India’s website include requirements for signage, ramps, drinking water, toilets and lighting, furniture, and entry and exit at polling stations.
However, according to Sudha Ramamoorthy, a DRA member, the ground reality remains that accessibility is only seen in terms of physical accessibility through ramps. In a survey she conducted last week at 22 polling stations in Choolaimedu, Mylapore and T Nagar for ramp access, six stations did not have ramps. The incline of the ramps were 1:2 or 1:3, against the standards of 1:10.
“One more thing I noticed was that all these polling stations, which were usually municipal schools, had a large open field from the gate to the booth. This meant that wheelchair users have no alternative but to cross that field,” she said, adding that all bathrooms were inaccessible for Persons with Disabilities (PwDs).
“In 2014, I did not get a braille voter slip. The time before that, one of the buttons in the EVM did not have braille. Once, they did not let my caretaker accompany me and assigned someone else to me,” said Dipthi Bhatia, president of National Association of the Blind, adding that independent movement in the station was not possible.
Although every station requires a sign language interpreter, it is unlikely as there are only 30 in Tamil Nadu. The DRA is working with TNEC to relay which facilities are required in which constituencies.
To make polling stations more accessible, Ummul suggested, “Ramps must have a certain amount of level space on both sides for easy access, the bathrooms must be made accessible, and people must be open and understanding to our needs.” Dipthi added that if a map for the visually impaired and adequate lighting were provided, manoeuvering through the station would be easier.
● Parking for PwDs coming on wheelchairs or other vehicles (to be visible from the road)
● After entrance arrow signs marks indicating the queue
● Arrow mark indicating the polling personnel
● Signage for male/female toilets
● Signage for toilets for PwD voters
● Signage indicating drinking water● Tables of 4’ x 2 1/2’ with provision for three people to sit — one BLO with booth slips, two NSS/NSC volunteers (one male and one female) to guide and assist voters (especially PwDs) entering the polling station
● Ramps should have an inclination ratio of 1:10 and not more than 1:14
● Firm hand rails to be provided which should not be of shaky material
● In case there are stairs to reach polling station, ramp should also be provided there
● Is adequate furniture available?
● Height of the table on which the ballot unit is kept should be disabled-friendly
● Sufficient moving space around the table for wheelchairs
(Source: ECI website)