Special vehicles, ramp for PwD voters this election in Odisha

A decision in this regard was taken by the state-level steering committee on accessible elections recently.
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BHUBANESWAR: People with visual and locomotive disabilities, voters with impaired movement and senior citizens will be provided transport free of cost from their residence to polling booths across the state.

As regular vehicles are largely inaccessible for differently-abled voters, district social security officers will place requisition for vehicles specially designed for persons with disabilities (PwDs) that are available with special schools and organisations, for the purpose. A decision in this regard was taken by the state-level steering committee on accessible elections recently.

The department of Social Security for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (SSEPD) is collaborating with disability rights organisation, Swabhiman, to make the voting process accessible to all. With close to 5.16 lakh persons with disabilities (PwD) enrolled in the state as specially-abled voters, ramps will be set up at polling booths with required gradient, wheelchair assistance and volunteers to ensure a smooth voting experience for them. PwDs and senior citizens above 85 years of age will be given priority while entering the polling booths. They will be accompanied by accessibility supervisors and volunteers who would oversee their participation in the election.

While every booth will have the required number of wheelchairs and ramp with a gradient of 1:12, the path to the entrance of the polling booth will be levelled for smooth movement of wheelchairs. Besides, inside the booths, tables with accessible height for voting by PwD electors will be provided.

Similarly, polling personnel and district election officers will be sensitised on findings and suggestions made in the report on accessibility audit findings for PwDs during the 2019 general elections by Swabhiman. The organisation had evaluated 56 polling booths of 11 districts (Koraput, Nabarangpur, Ganjam, Kalahandi, Kandhamal, Kendrapara, Jagatsinghpur, Khurda, and Bargarh) for accessibility. It had found that most of them lacked ramps and the existing ones did not meet the accessibility standards. Besides many of the tables used for casting votes were not suitable for PwDs and transportation facilities were limited.

In the past elections, lack of barrier-free measures had resulted in minimal participation of PwDs. A whopping 90 per cent of eligible PwD voters were stated to have skipped the general elections in 2009 and 2014. The situation had improved slightly in 2019. In 2014 general elections, braille ballot papers were available only in some booths in Cuttack, Bhubaneswar and Berhampur.

Meanwhile, officials said the process to reach out to the specially-abled and elderly voters who want to opt for the ‘voting from home’ (form 12D or postal ballot facility) option will start soon. While officials concerned will visit houses of such voters to collect the forms, they can also submit it through the SAKSHAM app.

FOR BARRIER-FREE POLLS

  • 5.16 lakh - PwD Voters in state

  • 6.8 lakh - Elderly voters in state

  • 39,999 - Wheelchairs arranged

  • 300 - PwD managed booths

  • Polling booths on ground floor meant for PwDs and elderly voters

  • Political parties issued guidelines for respectful discourse towards PwDs

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