In an attempt to improve the voter turnout among persons with disabilities (PwD), the Disability Rights Alliance (DRA), Tamil Nadu, an independent community of like-minded people, is working closely with the Election Commission to make polling booths more accessible for the PwD. Members of DRA and representatives from other relevant groups recently had a discussion at Vidyasagar, Kotturpuram, on ways to improve the voter turnout among PwD, prison detainees and the homeless.
Vaishnavi Jayakumar, the co-founder of The Banyan, an NGO which rehabilitates the destitute and the mentally ill, expressed her concern about the lack of facilities in polling booths for PwD. “One person has the opportunity to vote in only one specific polling booth assigned to him or her. And since these polling booths are in schools and other government buildings, there might be a number of obstacles that a PwD has to get past before casting the vote,” she said.
Smitha Sadasivan, a disability rights activists working for Vidyasagar, talked about the importance of organising a helpline for PwD during the elections. She supported the claim of having a separate polling booth specifically for PwD at ground-level or near the entrance to avoid accessibility issues. “The type of sand near the booth, the number of steps leading up to the booth and even reaching the booth, all of which should be taken into consideration,” she said. “Ramps, rails, water, volunteers and toilets should be made available for PwD in the polling booth.”
The DRA is planning to issue a manifesto compiling the demands and requirements of specific groups. An access audit would be conducted to gauge and identify the accessibility issues. A helpline is to be setup during the election to address complaints of PwD. A list of facilities that should be available at polling booths would be submitted to the Election Commission.
Amba Salelkar of Equals, Centre for Promotion of Social Justice, pointed out that those living in institutions too should be given an opportunity to vote. The group is planning to conduct an access audit to judge people’s experience while voting in the election.
The type of sand near the booth, the number of steps leading up to the booth and even reaching the booth, all of which should be taken into consideration. Ramps, rails, water, volunteers and toilets should be made available for PwD in the polling booths
— Smitha Sadasivan, member & activist, Vidyasagar