After people with disabilities faced an array of problems during the elections held in Tamil Nadu— Lok Sabha and bypolls– on April 18, disability rights activists have begun working closely with officials in the Disability Welfare Department to ensure that the bypoll on May 19 for four Assembly seats are barrier free.
From unavailable wheelchairs to ramps that don’t meet the specific requirements to insensitive poll officers and police personnel at various polling booths, people with disabilities reported a range of issues from across the state during the one-phase LS polls and bypoll for 18 Assembly seats. The experience have prompted the activists to be on top of things well ahead of May 19, when Aravakurichi, Ottapidaram (SC), Sulur and Tirupparankundram go to polls.
Talking to The Federal, Smitha Sadasivan of the Disability Rights Alliance said that they have decided to work on the audits with the respective district disability welfare officers (DDWOS). She added, “Alongside, we are having a meeting with the Tamil Nadu Chief Electoral Officer Satyabrata Sahoo on May 9 to ensure all coordination efforts are streamlined.” Disability groups like “December 3 Movement” and the Tamil Nadu Federation of Differently-abled Associations are working with the DDWOs, she added.
The Disability Welfare Department too earned flak following the issues reported during the polls, as activists alleged that they did not work closely with the poll panel to ensure a 100 per cent accessible election, in line with the Election Commission of India’s vision.
P Jhansi, DDWO Karur covering Aravakurichi, says that early work has begun so that there is no room for any kind of error. “I have taken the help of disabled people in the district to personally inspect and survey the available facilities at the polling booths. Since we have already had the Lok Sabha polls, we are almost prepared. We are also looking at the smallest of details to facilitate hassle free polls. For instance, “We have adjustable tables for people with dwarfism to access EVM-VVPATs with ease,” she said. She added that they have received requests for more wheelchairs and that will be acted upon immediately.
She also added that sensitisation of polling officers and awareness programmes have been conducted and that stations have been staffed with those trained in sign language and interpretations.
TMN Deepak, founder of the “December 3 Movement,” said that the DDWOs feedback is vital for the nodal officer. “We can give our inputs but the department has the experts who would be able to ascertain the requirements of people with all kinds of disabilities. The needs of a person with physical disabilities differ with the one suffering from visual disabilities,” he adds.