For many of the disabled in the city, barrier-free access at polling booths remained an unfulfilled promise on Thursday.
Despite the Chief Electoral Officer’s direction to provide ramps at all polling stations and Braille ballot papers for visually-challenged voters, many persons experienced difficulty voting. Some wheelchair-bound persons had to be carried to the booths.
Several polling stations did not have ramps, and those available at some centres were poorly constructed, with nogentle gradient or handrails.
Wheelchair-bound Rajiv Rajan, disability rights activist of Vidya Sagar, had to return without voting as the booth at Nellai Nadar School, Kotturpuram, did not have a ramp. “There were three to four steps at the booth. After complaints, a wooden ramp was installed but this too was not adequate,” he said.
P. Dhesappan said the polling station at Royapuram did not provide him with a Braille ballot paper. “The officials said they did not have one. The electronic voting machine had only the serial numbers of candidates in Braille. I struggled to vote,” he said.
In a few places such as Kottivakkam and Perungudi, the police did not allow entry of retro-fitted vehicles, while booths lacked disabled-friendly toilets, said K. Gopinath, State general secretary of Tamil Nadu Udavikkaram Association for the Welfare of Differently Abled.
Expressing unhappiness on the arrangements, Smitha Sadasivan, another disability rights activist of Vidya Sagar, said officials had turned down their earlier request to conduct an access audit.
However, Vikram Kapur, Chennai district election officer said he got calls and messages from voters saying the facilities for differently-abled persons were good.
Many voters said they were able to finish the voting process ‘within 10 minutes’.
And indeed, there were some who found the going smooth. Physically-challenged R. Hema, who works in the Central excise department, voted at the Saligramam booth. “I faced no difficulty in taking my wheelchair inside the booth as there were ramps,” she said, while S. Kalaivani of Vyasarpadi was allowed to enter the premises in her re-modelled vehicle.
S. Namburajan, State secretary of Tamilnadu Association for the Rights of All Types of Differently Abled and Caregivers, said there were nearly 10 lakh differently-abled voters in the State. In the city and its suburbs, there were close to 1.5 lakh of them.
(With inputs from Annie Philip)