Neelakshi Menon could not vote in the last two elections after she lost a limb in a road accident. This year, she is looking forward to casting her vote as Delhi’s Election Commission has promised to make all polling booths in the Capital disabled-friendly.
After years of advocating for the rights of the disabled, Javed Abidi, convenor of the Disabled Rights Group, is only too happy that many like Menon would not have to sit out this time as others went to vote.
With one step ahead on the matter of bringing disability as an issue into the national political limelight, Abidi is now busy monitoring the “first accessible elections” in India.
With the country well into the poll mode, Abidi and his ilk — like Abdul Masood, the director of Snehi, an NGO that works in the field of mental health — are looking to increase awareness on the issue.
Awareness or reaching out to the masses is what is needed at this point, said Abidi. The Election Commission’s response has been encouraging. It claims to have provided ramps and lists in Braille at all the polling booths.
“But this is not enough. We are asking disabled people to come out and vote as this is our own election. We must utilise the opportunity,” said Abidi.
According to conservative estimates, there are at least 70 million people — approximately 6 per cent of India's population — with some kind of disability. Together with their families, friends, neighbours and colleagues, their collective influence can be of about 300 million people, nearly half of voting population.
Abidi’s organisation is also focussing on sensitising politicians. This consortium wrote to the major political parties, including the Congress and the BJP, on the matter. “We are happy that they have at least mentioned ‘disability’ in their manifestos,” he said.
The issue of mental health still needs attention. “Even after 62 years of Independence, we don't have a Mental Health Policy. It is high time, everyone takes note of this,” Masood said. Snehi had written to four major national political parties and now plans to write to the regional parties as well.
“We are also writing to individual candidates on the issue. We also appeal to people to ask the candidates about the mental health policy?” Masood said.
The activists are also trying to reach out through radio advertisements and virtual groups. There website is www.accessibleelections.org.