Society

In Delhi, making elections accessible for the differently-abled

Everybody votes: One of Svayam’s vans on a test run  

“The fight is tight. Each vote matters,” says Sminu Jindal, reiterating the messaging we’ve all heard many times almost every election season. But this year, she’s attempted to follow through on this. Her organisation, Svayam, has partnered with NGOs in Delhi’s South, West, and South-West constituencies to ensure that people with mobility problems aren’t hindered from exercising their franchise.

Access for all

“Accessibility isn’t and shouldn’t be a concern only for disability rights activists,” Jindal stresses adding that you needn’t be elderly or disabled to benefit from better thought-out public transportation and spaces: you can be a young athlete who’s injured and on a wheelchair, or you can be in the last trimester of your pregnancy.

Polling is usually held in government buildings like the local municipal school, meaning that by law, these will be accessible spaces, with at least the basic provision of ramps. The problem though, is in getting to these booths.

Through its partner organisations, Svayam has deputed wheelchair-friendly vans that will shuttle people to and from their voting booths, should they need them. In 2017, the organisation had already donated 10 such vans to different NGOs across the country. Of these, four vans have stayed in the city, with Astha, Muskaan, Family of Disabled, and Yes We Can. This year, they’ve added two new vans to this existing entourage, also working with the Election Commission of India to ensure that booths have what the polling body calls “Assured Minimum Facilities.”

Key partnership

After surviving a crash that left her paralysed from the wasit down when she was 11 years old, Jindal has been an active advocate for accessibility. She calls the government Svayam’s “most important partner,” recalling a two-decade-old association through which they’ve partnered and consulted on projects. This includes regular audits, training, and design interventions at various sites.

Starting 2006, they worked with the Archaeological Survey of India to make heritage sites like the Qutub Minar, Fatehpur Sikri and the Taj Mahal friendly for tourists with reduced mobility. Later, they were a part of the core committee set up to harmonise construction standards for the elderly and disabled. Today, they routinely conduct sensitisation and training sessions with staff at the Delhi International Airport Limited.

But it was in June 2018 that the Election Commission of India invited Svayam to be a partner on the National Consultation on Accessible Elections, stating that this “will pave the way for evolving the National Policy document on Inclusion of PwDs [Persons with Disabilities] in Electoral Process.” Svayam specifically made 20 recommendations at this meet, including the need to allow service animals and guide dogs to enter booths.

“The ECI has been very positive this time. The only major challenge is to standardise these guidelines across the country,” says Subhash Chandra Vashishth, director of Svayam, adding that close to 13 pointers in their recommendations have been accepted and implemented this year.

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Printable version | May 16, 2021 12:46:22 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/in-delhi-making-elections-accessible-for-differently-abled/article27096864.ece

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