BHUBANESWAR: Aiming to make voting more accessible for people with disabilities, the Election Commission had come up with the theme “Accessible Elections”. But, inaccessibility continued to pose hurdle to such voters in several booths during the first elections on April 11.
Differently-abled activists on Saturday lodged a complaint with the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) for its alleged failure in sensitising polling personnel about participation of People With Disability (PwD) during the simultaneous polls to four Lok Sabha and 28 Assembly segments. They alleged that booth-level officials (BLOs) in most of the polling stations were rude towards voters with special needs.
“The first phase polling was marked with bad behaviour, lack of etiquette and disrespect towards voters with special needs. The booth-level officials were even seen seeking disability certificate from visually impaired and physically challenged voters to provide volunteer support,” said Sruti Mohapatra, Chief Executive Officer of Swabhiman and chief convener of Odisha State Disability Network.
Mohapatra said the ground report collected by State disability Network suggested that despite Election Commission’s decision to make arrangement for transport facilities for the differently-abled from home to booth, no such arrangement was in place anywhere.
Most of the PWD were also forced to stand in queue to cast their vote against the provision of priority voting while no voter with hearing impairment received any support from the polling personnel or volunteers.
Except a few polling booths in urban areas, minimum arrangements for differently-abled voters in the first phase were absolutely nil in majority of polling stations. Around 95 per cent polling stations in rural areas had no volunteers at all to extend support to physically challenged persons, she said.
Members of the organisation also alleged that in some booths the wheelchair users didn’t even have the ‘secrecy of ballot’ as some others had to cast vote for them on the highly positioned EVMs.
Bulu Gantayat, a differently-abled voter from Berhampur Assembly segment, alleged that the BLO of booth no-56 of the constituency misbehaved with him when he raised the issue of priority to differently-abled persons. Gantayat also said he was not allowed to use braille dummy ballot prior to vote, a provision the EC has kept for visually-challenged voters.
The Election Commission officials, however, said steps are being taken to improve facilities further for the differently-abled in the second phase. In the first phase, they had set up ramps in all 7,233 polling stations and provided wheel chairs at 6,988 stations. Besides, 5,051 polling stations had been provided with braille dummy ballot sheets, the EC officials claimed.