Monday, December 1, 2008

My first voting experience

Delhi had the assembly polls on November 28, 2008. I had been reading in the news papers that all polling booths were now accessible to people with disabilities. By accessibility they meant that the booths now had a step free access and Braille ballot paper.

 I was happy about the elections because I got a holiday, I was blissfully basking in the sun, till a friend of mine pushed me to go and vote. I tried to get out of it by saying that I did not have a Voters ID card, which he told me was not required and other ID’s were being accepted too.

 Since I knew the booth will be accessible, I agreed to go. I drove on my electric wheelchair till the booth which was about a kilometer away from my home. It was stationed at a Public School. On reaching I realized that only the wicket gate was open which had a bottom rod over which my electric wheelchair would not go. Then after the gate hurdle the route to the room where I was supposed to cast my vote had two steps.

 The Delhi Police who were manning the booth were happy to lift me through these hurdles, as they generally had being doing till now. What they failed to realize was that an electric wheelchair with me on it weighed over 200 Kgs. Once I explained this to them they of course were not willing any longer.

 After a long wait outside the gate a school gardener offered to assist me to get my ballot room. It was like an all terrain ride where I tested my wheelchair driving skills to the limit. Casting a vote that was a simple 5 minutes task for all turned out to be an hour long action packed activity for me, with times where my chair nearly toppled over, while driving over wooden planks that the gardener brought out from the store and spontaneously created temporary slopes for me.

 I casted my vote because by now I was determined to, but the two main issues that come out are:- 

  1. The claims of accessibility by the Election Commission are as vague as their understanding of accessibility in the first place. Just for example while it is a positive step that they provided Braille ballot paper for persons with vision impairments, but this was done without their understanding of the fact that a only a small percentage of people with vision impairments can read Braille. They could have considered using large print and colour contrast or even embossing.
  2. We talk about Inclusive Education by 2010 and zero rejection policy by schools, then looking at the school where my polling booth was stationed; it seems like a unachievable target.

 My Verdict

The Government implements schemes and policies such as accessible polling booths, inclusive education, etc without having any analysis of the needs of the intended target group. No wonder they will never be able to evaluate whether having Braille ballots actually helped voters with vision impairments or how to further improve the accessibility of the election procedure for disabled voters. Also while they have 2010 as the magical year by when inclusive education will be a reality, they have no accessibility standards that schools need to comply to. Additionally, the Government’s concept of inclusion is very outdated. They seek advice on inclusion from un-qualified people working for philanthropy in the disability sector.

Disability has to be looked at as a developmental issue rather than a social issue, with appropriate funds and professionalism ingrained into it. After all for building a flyover one will consult an engineer and not a mason, why then when it comes to disability inclusion issues suddenly qualifications and professionalism are not needed and sub standard services provided to the disabled acceptable? 

1 comment:

  1. Dear Shivani,

    Again we share the same view here. I am 31yrs old & haven't accessed my voting rights even once till date citing the same accessibility reasons that u practically experienced.
    I want to share an agonizing experience of mine that I had in Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi. I was there in 2007 to receive The National award as Role Model by the hon. President of India. When I went to use the ladies' washroom as I could not find a restroom for disable people there (I don't know if there is one). I was moved to see that the bathroom was not wide enough to accommodate my wheelchair. Right under the nose of the Govt. of India there is such a big flaw with accessibility. I had an immensely tough time making some room for my wheelchair & use the bathroom. This is a clear example of the seriousness of our Govt. towards disability issues. The most stringent part of this experience is that it happened on the occasion when we were celebrating empowerment & equal rights of differently able people.
    Shivani, I would like to if there is specially designed restroom in Vigyan Bhawan? If not then shouldn't it be brought under Govt's knowledge?

    Wish You a very successful & accomplishing New Year



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