Wheelchair-bound persons lifted and taken into booths

People with disabilities had to make quite an effort to exercise their franchise on Thursday as most of the 7,712 polling booths were not accessible to them. Most polling booths did not have ramps to enable the wheelchair-bound persons enter the polling booths. Although a few booths had ramps, they were hardly of any use as they were either broken or not strong enough to bear the weight of the wheelchair.

Although the Election Commission had promised to make arrangements to help such people cast their votes, Chief Electoral Officer Anil Kumar Jha told The Hindu that it was not possible to make all booths disabled-friendly.

“We had asked Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) to ensure that people with disabilities were not put to hardship”, Mr. Jha said.

Special Commissioner (Elections) K.R. Niranjan said the polling officials had been instructed to provide all possible help to people with disabilities, especially if the polling booth was not on the ground floor.

At the Women’s Peace League Girls’ High School in Shankarapuram, a middle-aged woman with disabilities found it difficult to enter the booth. “The ramp here enabled me to cover a very short distance, and then my wheelchair had to be lifted manually to help me reach the polling booth,” she said.

Similarly, Devikala M.L. (30) had to climb up the stairs using her crutches to reach her polling booth in Bhuvaneshwarinagar on Magadi Road. Jayesh Lahoti, a volunteer with ASTHA (an NGO that had arranged transport facility for persons with disabilities to reach the polling booths), said only two of the seven booths where he ferried people on Thursday had wooden planks as ramps.

Sunil Jain, founder of ASTHA, whose wheelchair too had to be lifted manually as the wooden ramp had broken in booth number 187 in Chamarajapet, said the lack of effort to integrate persons with disabilities into mainstream society may cost a loss of nearly four per cent of the votes for the candidates. He said, “Although we had arranged transport for persons with disabilities to reach the polling booths and had publicised the helpline number, only seven persons made use of our service. I am sure many persons with disabilities did not vote.”

V.S. Basavaraju, Executive Director of the Association of People with Disability, said the best the authorities could have done is to provide adequate facilities at least at polling booths identified to have a large number of voters with disabilities. “We know the government cannot do everything for our comfort. But all that was required was installing ramps and providing each booth with a wheelchair or two,” he added.

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