The lack of facilities in several voting booths, despite being required by law, made it difficult for people with disabilities to vote independently.
For nearly five years, Professor Raghuram Kalyanraman, a resident of East Tambaram in Chennai, has been campaigning vehemently to make public spaces more accessible to people with disabilities. Raghuram, who is visually impaired, fought to bring the issue to the authorities’ attention, but to no avail. The situation has remained virtually unchanged for years as was evident when he went to cast his ballot for the urban local body elections which took place in Tamil Nadu on Saturday, February 19.
Raghuram voted at the Sitadevi Garodia Hindu Vidyalaya in Chennai. Sharing his ordeal with TNM, Raghuram said, “I didn’t know how to get into the voting booth. On the way, vehicles were parked everywhere and there were people everywhere. There was no one to guide us. In the name of help, someone just dragged me into the polling station.
“Inside the polling station, everyone was surprised, obviously because they weren’t expecting a visually impaired person to vote. They didn’t have the braille sheet with the list of candidates when I asked for it. The officer there tried to downplay the issue and said I could vote with the help of the staff. I wanted to do it independently, but as it didn’t seem possible, I wanted to leave the place without voting. But the officers convinced me to vote. They showed me the EVM and told me the candidates and their buttons in serial order. Eventually, I ended up voting, but I have no idea who I voted for,” he said.
Many people with disabilities have had the same experience, according to community activists. According to them, very few structures respond to the different disabilities. Deepak, state chairman of the 3 December Movement, an organization working for the rights of people with disabilities, told TNM: “Except for equipping voting booths with wheelchairs, no other . Even this arrangement was superficial. They just fixed it for fun. In some places, wooden ramps were used, which is extremely dangerous, not only for us but also for others. Obviously, the authorities have not audited the voting booths to verify the facilities, which is mandatory. There was no one to help people in wheelchairs. The Braille sheet has not been adapted for the visually impaired. Authorities need to understand that simply having wheelchairs does not make voting booths accessible to everyone. This thought itself is regressive. There are several other disabilities.
Dr V Janaki, a resident of Mylapore, also alleged that her polling station at Sir Sivaswami Kalalaya School was also not suitable for the disabled. “There were no ramps or wheelchairs or signage or callouts for the hearing impaired or the visually impaired either.”
The Election Commission of India is required by law to provide an array of facilities to ensure ease of voting for persons with disabilities. These include appropriate signage, barrier-free and level pathways to voting compartments, accessible restrooms, etc. However, few if any of these were made available to people with disabilities in Saturday’s urban local polls.