Chennai: The Tamil Nadu State Election Commission has been working proactively towards increasing the poll percentage this election. The #MakeYourMarkTN campaign on Twitter and their awareness campaigns speak volumes about their initiatives.
Ironically, however, their not so disabled-friendly polling booths might keep the People with Disabilities(PWDs) from voting - a hindrance to the very cause of the Election Commission. A day ahead of the elections, the polling booths in the state have no adequate ramps and no wheelchair facilities, let alone separate parking for the fraternity.
In an inspection carried out by this reporter along with members of the Federation of the Tamil Nadu Differently Abled Association, it was learnt that there are zero infrastructure facilities for PWDs. R. K. Sekar, who suffers from a locomotor disability, suffered a fall when he tried to get onto the ramp at a corporation school polling booth in ward 139. “According to the guidelines under The Rights of Persons with Disability/Disabilities Act 2016, a ramp should have an inclination ratio of 1:10. However, the ramp at the corporation school has an inclination ratio of 6:6. That makes it challenging for a wheelchair-bound individual to access the booth, even with help,” said R. K. Sekar.
It may be noted that the Tamil Nadu Election Commission had promised to make the upcoming election 100 percent disability friendly. However, the on-the-ground reality contradicts their various promises and initiatives.
When a 2.5 feet M. G. Rahul reached the polling station at Jafferkhanpet, he was shocked to learn that there were no stools. “I had to learn about these serious gaps beforehand to save myself the embarrassment on polling day. Now, I will have to carry my own chair,” Rahul rued.
In one of the serious lapses on the EC's end, Braille inclusive voter IDs were not provided to the visually impaired in Tamil Nadu. Additionally, in many polling booths, EVMs are placed on desks, a facility that causes discomfort to PWDs. “There is a shortage of chairs in schools. This is the case in many schools across Tamil Nadu,” said an official in charge.
The toll-free number 1950 that was released by the EC to facilitate voters, including PWDs, has been unresponsive. Our reporter tried to check with the toll-free number and was kept waiting for more than ten minutes.
Nodal officer Manimaran, who is in charge of setting up facilities for PWDs, assured to resolve the issues before the elections on Thursday.
No giant steps taken towards making elections PWD friendly: The Election Commission of India had summoned disability activists for a three-day meeting in June 2018, to discuss making the elections disabled-friendly. The recommendations made by the activists were shared with 35 CEOs across the country. “It is unacceptable that none of those recommendations, based on The Rights of Persons with Disability/Disabilities Act 2016, was carried out. The Tamil Nadu Election Commission had promised to set up all the infrastructural facilities for PWDs before 12th April. However, they have done nothing about it,” said P. Simmachandran, President, Federation of Tamil Nadu Differently Abled Association.
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