It was a mixed bag on election day when it came to ease of access for senior citizens and persons with disability to polling booths. The general response ranged between ‘very good' to ‘poor', varying from area to area, booth to booth.

T.M.N. Deepak, vice-president, Tamil Nadu Handicapped Federation, said that while ramps were missing in some booths, especially in rural areas, the plus in this election was the co-operation of booth officials and police personnel.

P. Simmachandran, member of the Disabled Welfare Board in the State, went to cast his vote at Jaffarkhanpet this morning. While police personnel were helpful, he said inside the polling booth, there was very little space for manoeuvring.

“The benches were at sharp angles, restricting our access to the voting machine. As for wheelchair users, there was no way they could have gone through.” Ramps continued to be an issue this election too, Mr. Simmachandran said. Even in city booths, a polling centre that catered to many wards did not provide ramps for all booths. “If there were 12 rooms used for polling, only one had a ramp.”

G. Chidambaranathan of the Tamil Nadu Handicapped Federation, himself a wheelchair user, said that he faced the same problem when he went to vote at the booth on Pondicherry Road, Kottupuram. “However, we got reports that the ramps in areas like Kannagi Nagar and Thoraipakkam were excellent.” Some ramps, however were so steep that they could not be used.

S. Annamalai of the Villupuram District Differently Abled Association, said that while ramps were provided in most of the town areas, rural areas were ignored. “I was also informed that disabled persons who had gone to vote in T. Kolathur village were shooed away because there was a crowd, and asked to come later. These people then had to protest before they were allowed to vote.”

Reports came in from a booth in Coimbatore city, where officials first refused to allow vehicles of disabled persons as close as possible to the booth. The good distance between the gate and the polling booth made it difficult for the orthopaedically handicapped. Some politicians had to intervene to allow them to enter. The availability of Braille stickers for visually impaired voters was also inconsistent through the State, according to reports. At Saidapet and T. Nagar, polling officers said that visually impaired persons could take a companion who would aid them to vote, since Braille stickers were not available.

However, in the polling booth next to the Tiruvanmiyur terminus, Aruna Devi, a visually impaired person, who was asked to take a companion to vote, refused to do so. She reiterated her right to vote independently, after which polling officials hunted for the Braille stickers (in English) and found them. After this, Ms. Devi was allowed to vote by herself.

P. Karuppasamy of Elayirampannai of Virudhunagar district was not so lucky. “I had no idea about the Braille stickers. If they were in English, they might not have been so useful either. The booth officials allowed my wife to accompany me and vote.” He thanked the police constable on duty, who allowed him to jump the queue on account of his disability.

S. Boopathy of the Federation was on election duty in a booth at Virudapuram in Madurai. Possibly the presence of a disabled person ensured that the aged and disabled were in a separate queue and wherever there were long queues, they were given preference for voting.

He said that the credit for this should go to the Election Commission that had sensitised polling officials, and the district administration.

But clearly, the instructions had not percolated down evenly. In the morning, at V.P.Reddiar Middle School in Villivakkam constituency, there was no separate queue for senior citizens. Initially, a couple of old persons could be seen requesting the security personnel on duty to permit them to vote bypassing the queue.

(Inputs from K.T. Sangameswaran and R. Sujatha)

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R. SujathaJune 28, 2012