In absence of ramp or lift, disability rights activist Arman Ali was made to wait for over an hour in Guwahati; finally ‘lifted’ by 5-6 people to help him cast his vote upstairs
Guwahati: Despite the Election Commission of India’s (ECI) strict guidelines to provide necessary facilities to persons with disabilities (PwDs), a disability rights activist in Assam had to face the brunt of government apathy in Guwahati during the third and final phase of Lok Sabha elections in Assam on Tuesday.
Arman Ali, the executive director of the New Delhi-based National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), had to face some unfortunate moments while exercising his franchise at a polling station in Guwahati.
Like other voters, Ali, one of the leading disability rights activists of the country, reached Dispur Government HS School polling booth to cast his vote on Tuesday morning. But to his utter surprise, there was no lift, ramp or other facilities for differently-abled voters to reach the voting place which was on the first floor of the building.
The wheelchair-bound activist had to wait for more than an hour under the scorching heat requesting the authorities concerned to arrange facilities so that he can cast his vote.
“I have come here to cast my vote. It’s been an hour since I've been waiting here in the scorching heat. When I reached here, I discovered that my polling booth is on the first floor. There is no ramp or lift to reach there. To my surprise, there was no facility for differently-abled voters in the polling booth,” Ali told EastMojo.
“I personally contacted the district election officer to help me,” he said, adding: “I was waiting there in the open like a comic character. Everyone in the polling booth was looking at me and creating unnecessary attention on me, which was not required.”
Ali said he should have been able to come here like a normal person, cast his vote and leave. “There is a lot more that needs to be done. Political parties should take the disability issue more seriously. People with disability must come out and speak for their rights openly. This kind of behaviour, like second-class citizens of the country, should not be meted out to persons with disabilities,” he added.
Later, following assurance from the authorities concerned, Ali returned home to come back again around 4.30 pm at the polling booth when he had to be lifted by about five to six people while being seated in the wheelchair to the first floor to exercise his franchise.
Guided by the motto of 'No voter to be left behind', the EC had ordered the election machinery in all states to arrange transportation for disabled voters and their assistants on polling day to ensure their participation in the electoral process.
In an order issued to the Chief Electoral Officers of all states and Union Territories, the EC had directed them to arrange for pick-up and drop facilities for the differently-abled voters from their residence to the polling stations and back.
Government vehicles may be used for the purpose, the EC directive had said.
Following are some of the guidelines as laid down by the EC for making accessible polling stations for persons with disabilities:
1. Flat roads approaching polling station
2. Wide, non-slippery pavements with ramps approaching the polling station.
3. Signage, pictures and enlarged text to guide voters towards polling stations.
4. Vehicle parking for persons with disabilities inside and outside the premise of polling stations, with universal disability symbol.
5. Sheds to be provided in the waiting area, adequate number of wheelchairs must be present in the polling station.
6. No queues for persons with disabilities.
7. Universal disability symbol at the entrance/let in ways for persons with disabilities.
8. In case of separate entry for persons with disabilities, entrance to be free of bumps or sand.
9. Availability of ramps with proper gradient (1:12) in case there are stairs.
10. Ramps to be minimum 3-foot wide and strong enough to hold a person using wheel chair.
11. Ramps to be smooth without any damage or danger and handrails to be provided on both sides.
12. Entrance door of the polling station should be kept open.
13. Doorway should be minimum 3-foot wide for wheelchair users.
14. Hall way/pathway to polling rooms to be free of obstacles with signage.
15. Polling room to be on the ground floor or to have elevators/ ramp that can accommodate wheelchairs.
16. Entire polling station should be well lit.
17. Adequate space for wheel chair users to move around freely between registration and ballot tables in polling rooms.
18. Information/posters on voting process to be available outside and inside the polling room written in large text and Braille with pictures and plain language.
19. Counters, desks, ballot sheets and EVMs at a wheelchair accessible height.
20. Ballot sheets and EVMs should be in Braille.
21. Restrooms/ Toilets to have easy to open doors, 3-foot wide and flat floor with handrails and accessible height.
22. Hand rails within polling room and rest room.
23. Color coding to indicate level differences throughout the polling station.
24. Seating arrangement with wheel chair accessible height, and back and arm rest to be provided inside polling stations.
25. Accessible drinking water facility.
26. Volunteers must be present at every polling station for assistance.
27. Pick-up-and-drop facilities to and from the polling stations to be provided for persons with severe disabilities.