Before the Lok Sabha elections in May 2024, there is the highly watched UP poll next year. Here is a Mumbai physician who believes it is high time a solution that enables visually challenged voters to cast their vote like anyone else was found. Dr Akshay Bajad has created an innovative system of ‘image-text to speech conversion’ to be introduced in Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) that takes the necessary steps to help them cast their votes. He has submitted a proposal to the Election Commission, Ministry of
Law and Justice, and Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities. The decision is awaited.
How does Operation Bajad work? The blueprint and feasibility report of a stand-alone real-time system envisages the capture of an image of the paper slip generated by the printer in Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) that extracts the text, which is converted into speech.
Using headphones, the words can be heard by visually impaired voters. “ITTS (image text to speech conversion) has many applications, including a C-Pen reader for visually challenged and a computer screen reader. Even a smartphone having any image to speech conversion application, downloaded from the Play/App store, can act as an ITTS device. It’s just that no one thought of using it for audio verification of votes,” he explains.
Bajad is a 30-year-old Ayurvedic physician and academic writer who identifies himself as an independent researcher of good governance and public policy. “Electoral reform is one of my areas of special interest. While researching this topic, I learned that PwD voters face many hardships in exercising their basic human right—the right to vote. Other PwD voters who cannot vote independently can at least verify their votes. However, visually impaired voters can neither vote independently nor verify their votes,” he adds.
Bajad says he has developed a prototype, but needs the EC’s permission to access the VVPAT machines. “All we need is hardware components for the manufacturing of ITTS devices. It may cost about Rs 2,000 per device if produced on a mass scale for 17,30,000 VVPATs. That’s only about Rs 346 crore to incorporate the audio verification system in all the available EVMs.” The poll doctor had made email representations to the competent authorities two months ago. No word yet.
Matter of fact
Section 11 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, states that the Election Commission of India and the State Election Commissions shall ensure that all polling stations are accessible to persons with disabilities and all materials related to the electoral process are easily understandable and accessible to them. According to the EC’s official press release, all the polling stations were made disabled-friendly during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. However, in reality, many polling stations still lack basic facilities. Lack of additional support and facilities that are necessary for the PwD voters to exercise their right to vote triggers a wave of unhappiness and a sense of insecurity.