By Parvinder Singh
In a major victory for people with disabilities, about 50,000 voting
machines could be equipped with Braille and ramps erected at all polling
booth for the coming assembly election in Karnataka.
The state chief electoral officer, M. N. Vidyashankar, gave this assurance
to disability activists who had gone to meet him on April 9, 2008 under
the banner of Karnataka Angavikalara Rajya Okkoota (KARO), an ActionAid
“It hardly costs Rs. 5 to insert Braille feature on the voting machine.
But it helps a visually challenged person to be independent of others
while making a choice,” N. P.
Ramachandran, district secretary of KARO, was quoted as saying in a media
Mr Vidyashankar promised that a circular will be issued soon to all
officials concerned to ensure that each polling booth has a ramp and
Braille equipped voting machines so that persons with disabilities can
voted in the election from May 10, 2008.
Missing from political agenda
As delegates, including wheelchair users and people with vision
impairment, visited offices of political parties seeking representation of
their demands in the election manifestos, they met with several barriers.
“Steep stairs at the entrance inadvertently greeted the delegates and
despite being informed in advance no one was there to hear us,” said
Victor John Cordeiro, programme manager of ActionAid’s Disability Unit.
“Delegates spontaneously shouted remove stairs and construct ramps and all
the others joined in,” he added.
Often termed as invisible minority, people with disability and their
rights have been neglected by political parties.
Making each vote count
Infuriated by neglect, the state-level coalition of disability rights
group claiming representation of three million disabled people served an
ultimatum to party candidates that they stand to lose if their manifestos
and election speeches do not address these demands.
The ultimatum lists demands including implementation of disability act,
education for all children with disability by 2012 and barrier-free access
to public spaces.
In 2004, the Supreme Court of India issued a directive asking the election
commission to take measures to allow persons with disabilities cast their
votes. The commission itself has since sent out many notices to state
election bodies to ensure implementation.
“We are going to keep a strict vigil not only on Braille equipped voting
machines, but also on the election speeches and manifestos,” said
Ramanath, secretary KARO.
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