Accessible elections still a dream for disabled voters in Tamil Nadu

Disabled persons highlighted that there was no accessible toilet while most polling booths were also missing handrails

Published - April 20, 2024 06:00 am IST - Chennai

K. Deepa, 37, a person with disabilities, of the Narikurava community, casting her vote at a polling booth at Devarayaneri in Tiruchi district on Friday.

K. Deepa, 37, a person with disabilities, of the Narikurava community, casting her vote at a polling booth at Devarayaneri in Tiruchi district on Friday. | Photo Credit: M. MOORTHY

While ramps and wheelchairs were provided, complete accessibility to cast vote was still not achieved for the disabled community in the first phase of the Lok Sabha Elections that was held in Tamil Nadu on Friday.

For first time voter T. Saravanan, 19, a wheelchair user, the EVM was not accessible, leading to him not being able to cast his own vote. “I was very excited to take part in the elections but there was no space for my wheelchair to move into the EVM space. My mother had to vote on my behalf. I couldn’t even touch the EVM,” he said.

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Disabled persons highlighted that there was no accessible toilet while most polling booths were also missing handrails to help them up the ramps nor were the ramps at the right height for easy access. They also noted that they weren’t allowed to take their vehicles past the gate of the polling booth to access their booths.

K. Kamalnathan, wheelchair user voting in North Chennai constituency, crawled on the floor to reach the EVM. He said the officials offered to carry him. “Why should they? Shouldn’t I have my privacy and dignity to cast my vote,” he questioned.

Ummul Khair, a member of the Disability Legislation Unit said that she asked the officials to move the EVM to make space to accommodate the wheelchair and did not move until the space was made but her troubles didn’t end there. “I reached the EVM and realised I could not reach the buttons. It was difficult,” she added.

Meanwhile, Aranga Raja, who is visually impaired, used the braille sheet and Form 7A but found it difficult to cast his vote as the EVM was’t numbered and it was assembled from right to left, something which he was not prepared for. “The polling officer had to help me and my privacy to cast my vote was lost,” he said.

People with low vision complained that the rooms were poorly lit making it difficult to see the symbols while some others also noted that the symbols were small too.

“It has been a half-hearted effort. Despite access audits of the polling booths conducted out of the efforts of the community, many people were still unable to vote as the EVMs were not accessible or the ramps were too steep,” said Aishwarya Rao, member of the Disability Rights Alliance.

In Pallapalayam in Coimbatore, 77-year-old Shanmugham said he had cast his vote for 12 MP elections. “I had voted when Nehru was elected the Prime Minister,” he claimed. “I used to work in a textile mill. My movement is restricted because I suffered a stroke,” he said.

In Tiruchy, Mohamed Ibrahim (57) from Muslim Street, who had cast his vote at a polling booth at Al-Jamieathus Sadhik Matriculation School in Khajamalai, said he has been exercising his franchise without fail. “I eagerly waited for the polling day to cast my vote. I follow political news and strongly believe that effecting change is in our hands,” said Mr. Ibrahim.

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