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Assembly Elections 2018: EC looks to ensure disabled-friendly voting

Assembly elections 2018: With an aim to make the polling exercise accessible to all, especially those who disabilities, the election commission picked on a theme of ‘accessible elections’. According to the 2011 census, India has around 70 million people with disabilities.

india Updated: Dec 07, 2018 14:06 IST
assembly elections 2018,election commission,booth level officer
Assembly Elections 2018: The Election Commission has taken on board suggestions from advocacy groups and experts in the field of disability rights to ensure that people who are wheelchair bound have access to polling booths and there are Braille stickers on electronic voting machines for those with visual impairment.(HT File )

Batimon Nongsteng a resident of village Massar, in the East Khasi Hills District in Meghalaya, has been appointed as a booth level officer (BLO). What makes this appointment unusual is that Nongsteng, a homemaker and a part-time social worker has a hearing impairment like 50% of Massar’s population; a reason why Massar has earned sobriquet of silent village.

Election commission officials said Nongsteng is perhaps the first ever hearing impaired BLO, whose job is to ensure an error-free and updated electoral roll by collecting actual field information of the polling area assigned to her.

“During the assembly elections in Meghalaya in February, she acted as a bridge between the election commission and the people. Nongsten, who is in her 20s, has a partial impairment and using sign language she bridged the gap between the people in her village and the commission. So we thought of appointing her as a BLO, which according to us is a first,” said the chief electoral officer FR Kharkongor.

In Massar there are 87 households of 60 families, where people are either partially or completely hearing impaired. Most of the children in the age group of 0-6 have impairment in varying degrees, said Kharkongor.

Nongsten’s appointment has a twin purpose. Functionaries at the election commission said it serves to encourage people with disabilities (PwD) to officiate in the electoral process and at the same time allows the commission to get first hand information about the issues and concerns that the PwDs face.

With an aim to make the polling exercise accessible to all, especially those who disabilities, the election commission picked on a theme of ‘accessible elections’. According to the 2011 census, India has around 70 million people with disabilities.

The commission has taken on board suggestions from advocacy groups and experts in the field of disability rights to ensure that people who are wheelchair bound have access to polling booths and there are Braille stickers on electronic voting machines for those with visual impairment, said a senior functionary.

In the past the commission would be flooded with complaints from PwDs about the lack of access to polling booths.

In 2014 during the assembly election in Delhi, Anita Ghai professor, School of Human Studies at the Ambedkar University, was allowed access to the polling booth only after she sat outside in protest and her case made it to the television channel’s report.

“I am a wheelchair user and there was no ramp. There was another entry to the polling station which I was not being allowed to use; only after a channel showed me protesting did they allow me access to the polling station,” she said.

Has the commission made amends? Ghai said, the intervention will be visible during the forthcoming polls.

It was following feedback from PwDs such as Ghai, that in July, the commission held a two-day programme on inclusion of Persons with disabilities (PwDs) in the electoral process to come up with a national policy on the issue.

In Goa, for instance, chief electoral officer Kunal (uses one name) said during the 2017 assembly election, a drive was conducted for identification of PwD electors, voter awareness materials in medium suitable to PwD was issued, assistance was offered to PwD to reach polling stations by arranging transportation and some polling stations were managed by PwD officials.

First Published: Dec 07, 2018 14:06 IST