While it tried through media campaigns to improve the voter turnout for the Delhi Assembly elections, a large number of persons with disability (PwDs) were still unable to reach the polling booths — as they were not disabled friendly — and could not exercise their franchise.
A case in point was that of Neeru Gautam, who works in the disability sector with Sahyogi. A resident of Block 34 of West Patel Nagar, Ms. Gautam decided to cast her vote by taking her power chair all the way to the polling station in Block 26 Community Centre.
However, on reaching her polling booth, she realised there was no ramp to enter and the entrance to the room was also blocked by a wooden pole which had been put in the middle of the passage to segregate the incoming and leaving voters.
“As my chair could not enter the room, I asked the election staff to come out and help me cast my vote. But despite repeated pleas, no one came forward. Then one person offered to lift me physically, which I refused outright and I came back without casting my vote,” she rued.
Ms. Gautam incidentally had been voting in every election. “Earlier, I had a helper who would take me inside the booth but ever since I became independent due to my power chair, I have not felt the need for one. The Election Commission should have ensured ramps and barrier-free access for the PwDs in this election.”
Some PwDs also vented their anger on social networking sites. Abha Khetarpal, a wheelchair user and president of NGO Cross the Hurdles, wrote on the Facebook page of Dr. Satendra Singh, Coordinator with the Enabling Unit of the Equal Opportunity Cell of the University College of Medical Sciences, how polling booth number A-28 in Subhash Nagar, where she had to cast her vote, had no ramps for wheelchair users and no Braille stickers.
She commented: “So, in this politics of vote bank, polling stations are inaccessible. How can this be called government of the people, by the people and for the people?”
Ms. Khetarpal also noted the media often asks for proof about such shortcomings in the electoral system. “But taking pictures is not allowed — a disabled system indeed.”
For his part, Dr. Singh said: “I haven’t seen any attempts on the part of the Election Commission to publicise voting facilities for the disabled. There is no information on radio or media. However, kudos to the EC Delhi to finally make their website accessible to visually impaired. Sadly, EC’s website is still inaccessible.”
Despite the heavy odds, some PwD voters remained determined to cast their vote. Virender Kalra, a bank manager and a resident of Subhash Nagar, was one of them. When he found there was no ramp for his wheelchair to climb on, he got two persons to lift him and take him inside the polling booth. “I was determined to vote and did so to play my role in ensuring a healthy democracy,” he said.