New Delhi | 04 July 2018
To ensure accessible and inclusive elections, the Election Commission of India has for the first time engaged with the civil society seeking their expertise, assistance and recommendations while taking several other concrete steps to make the dream of inclusive election a reality. Towards this endeavour, the ECI partnered with country’s top civil society organizations (CSOs) including Svayam. An active role was played by Ms. Smitha Sadasivan, Consultant, ECI in this endeavour.
Post its deliberation with the CSOs, the ECI decided to hold a two-day “National Consultation on Accessible Elections” on 3-4 July 2018 at the Nirvachan Sadan, Ashoka Road, New Delhi. The event was inaugurated by Chief Election Commissioner Shri OP Rawat, in the presence of Election Commissioners Shri Sunil Arora and Shri Ashok Lavasa. During the inaugural session, a dedicated portal for the ECI’s ‘Systematic Voters Education and Electoral Participation’ (SVEEP) initiative was also launched.
In the consultation, Mr. Subhash Chandra Vashishth, Director, Svayam, presented the recommendations on behalf of Svayam towards making elections more accessible and inclusive.
A conference reader was published by the Election Commission of India which contained the major recommendations made by partner VSOs. Click here for a copy of the Conference Reader.
A brief profile of Svayam and its recommendation appear from page __ to ___ in the consultation reader.
Proceedings : In the two day deliberations the CEOs of different states, stakeholders from all over India and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) sat together and mulled over the challenges faced by people with reduced mobility and those with disabilities in independently using their right to franchise and discussed effective strategies to remove the barriers in a time bound manner.
The venue of the Consultation had a small exhibition showing the ECI’s work in promoting inclusion, a Model Accessible Polling Booth. The venue was designed as accessible with a ramp leading to the stage and provisions of good signage and simultaneous signage language interpretation of the event.
The Election Commission of India developed a Strategic Framework on Accessible Elections which was formally released by the Chief Election Commissioner during the closing session of the event.
The event was a part of the ECI’s larger mission to ‘leave no voter behind,’ with a special focus on ‘Persons with Disabilities’ (PwD). The theme of the event was ‘Inclusion of PwD’s’. It has been given a special focus in the ECI’s Strategic Plan 2016-2025. Also, “Accessible Elections” has been adopted as ECI’s central theme for this year’s National Voters’ Day celebrations.
The event aimed to identify the barriers or gaps in the inclusion of PwD’s in the electoral process, in order to assess the existing accessibility initiatives and find solutions for the challenges being faced by them. The main objective was to enhance the participation of the Persons with Disabilities in the upcoming state and Lok Sabha elections.
Participants: The participants at the event included the Chief Electoral Officers of all states, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) working in the area of empowerment of the differently-abled and senior officials of the Union Ministries of Social Justice & Empowerment, Information & Broadcasting, Electronics and Information Technology, Youth Affairs and Sports, Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), Central Public Works Department and the National Literacy Mission Authority.
The Election Commission handed over the first “braille enabled voter identity card” to a voter with blindness and shared that it will soon issue braille voter identity cards to all visually-challenged electors across the country who opt for it. Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat said the commission has decided to establish auxiliary polling stations during elections for the people with disabilities.
Mobile app launch: The Chief Election Commissioner Shri. O. P. Rawat, along with the Election Commissioners Shri Sunil Arora and Shri Ashok Lavasa also launched a mobile app, called ‘cVIGIL’ for citizens to report any violation of the model code of conduct during elections through which videos and photos of any poll code violations could be reports to ECI in real times including lack of accessibility or any other barrier faced by voters with disabilities.
Disability Coordinators: Mr. Rawat said “disability coordinators” will be appointed at the assembly constituency, district and state levels. The CEC said the commission will also make available all election-related awareness material in accessible formats for such voters. Rawat said photo voter slips will also be made in accessible formats for them.
Sign language windows: For the use of the hearing-impaired voters, sign language windows will be provided in all audio-visual training and awareness content of the commission, he said. In his address, Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said, “We should go far beyond the bureaucratic measures to overcome the barriers. Technology has the capability to fill the gaps and it shall be explored to its fullest potential.”
Voting from Home: The Election Commission is also thinking about various new- age methods to make elections more accessible; this includes advance voting or early voting, voting from home, postal vote, transport assistance or mobile polling station concept, provided these do not compromise the sanctity and secrecy of vote.
As per the strategic framework finalised at the national consultation on accessible elections, the commission also agreed to examine the scope and need for legislative measures to enhance electoral participation of physically-challenged people.
The framework — based on the premise of ‘no voter to be left behind’ — was drawn up in consultation with representative of national parties, government ministries/ departments, disability experts and civil society organisations. The ECI will examine the feasibility of allowing persons with disabilities to vote before general voting hours so as to save them the trouble of having to queue up. The possibility of extending the postal ballot facility to differently-abled people will also be weighed. Also, persons with disabilities, who will be mapped by the EC constituency and polling station-wise, may be facilitated with transportation to the polling station or could be allowed to vote at mobile polling stations in the days to come.
Some of these measures may require amendments to election laws or conduct of election rules. The EC will also ensure that special measures aimed at boosting participation of physically-challenged voters meet the essential requirements of sanctity and secrecy of vote.
Braille & sign language: The EC had last week announced steps aimed at better involvement of differently-abled voters in the electoral process. This included printing of electoral photo identity cards in Braille, mobile app to educate and motivate voters with disabilities, sign language window for deaf voters and free transport facility for them along with their assistants.
Mapping: The commission will be taking further steps including identifying barriers to participation of disabled voters and finding solutions, mapping of PwDs through mapping or initial voter registration, customized voter education to cater to different requirements of PwDs, developing user-friendly websites for PwDs of different categories, engaging the help of government and civil society organisations for capacity building and constitution of special committees on accessible elections.
Svayam’s Recommendations to ECI:
- Accessible polling stations at the ground floor, including, wide entrance, adequate & dedicated parking within 30 meters, levelled / obstacles free pathways; ramps, signage, direction signs, pictograms of PS, lighting, wheelchair, toilets, drinking water facility, seating arrangement and а/vs to be as per access standards, as mandated in the Rules of the RPDA 2016. EVM chamber should meet access standards like wheel chair manoeuvring space, height of table, proper signage, ample illumination as well as contrast, auditory clues and so on. Specific reasonable accommodations
- In the EVM, the party symbols need to be provided in tactile format such that a visually impaired person can touch and know what it is. There should be a provision where a voter with visual impairment can connect an earphone so that he/she could hear what they have pressed. Long cables that enable adjusting EVMs, approach to EVM from sideways for people of short stature, etc, to be worked out as there is difficulty in reaching the topmost icon.
- An easy read version of candidate / ballot sheet, with large pictures, should be hung or kept near the EVM for people with low vision/ intellectual disabilities / high support needs. Alternative methods of casting a ballot such as – Touch screens, a handheld device with Braille labels, magnifiers, joystick, etc need to be considered for all 21 types of disabilities, according to one’s requirement.
- Postal ballot, mobile ballot units (including polling vans to have scheduled stops at hospitals/ rehab institutions to enable participation of people admitted/working, etc), sms voting facility enabled during poll hours and online voting options need to be explored.
- Allocation of budget to be made for raising awareness on accessible electoral process too.
- Selection of election ambassador with disability and Civil Society Organisation (CSO) / Disabled Persons Organisation (DPO) for support can to be facilitated through the district committee under Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 and election commission.
- Election Commission should hire persons with disabilities including women with disabilities as polling officers in all districts.
- Election Commission of India should issue a circular mandating all political parties to make their communication (websites, manifestos, speeches), their offices, venues, etc to be accessible/ in all accessible formats for all persons with disabilities.
- Election Commission of India should issue a circular to the media (TV etc) to make their information accessible.
- Election Observer’s checklist to include indicators on accessible electoral process for persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities can be engaged as observers too.
- Specific provision of punitive measure for non-compliance of the notices / guidelines or directives regarding “accessibility for persons with disabilities / Women with Disabilities in the electoral process” by the stakeholders including election commission, should be a part of the ECI policy, including well defined monitoring mechanism for implementation.
- Human Resource at polling booths (all polling officers, volunteers, police personnel, etc) need to be sensitized and trained on interacting with and providing service to voters with disabilities. Each polling station must have women volunteers / trained lady police to help the women voters with disabilities.
- Consider providing a dummy Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) to educate voters with disabilities on operating the EVM to cast their vote.
- Ensure pedestrian and sidewalk accessibility of polling stations
- Polling station should have accessible pictograms. Directional signage to be provided to orient electors with disabilities
- Should have provision of human assistance.
- Service animal/guide dogs should be allowed along with electors with disability during vote caste.
- Develop a robust checklist to ensure polling stations are accessible to disabled / elderly voters
- Awareness regarding the electoral rights of persons with disabilities, about the manner in which these citizens can exercise their right to vote and access justice and redress in case of violation of rights.
- Priority to be given to electors with disability for entering the polling station, without having wait time.
Examples of Good Practices (by Svayam):
- Goa Assembly elections 2017 enabled a polling booth fully manned by persons with disabilities.
- Sign language interpreter was assigned to control room with video call facility during by-Elections to Dr. Radhakrishnan Nagar Assembly constituency, Chennai in 2017
- During 2017 Punjab assembly elections, disability district coordinators (PwDs) were provided id cards from respective district administrations to conduct access audit of polling booths based on an accessible polling booths checklist prepared by Disability Rights Alliance India. The coordinators were also accompanied by staff from the district revenue offices in their office vehicles. The reports presented were acted upon in many polling booths.
- CEO TN’ s efforts during 2016 assembly elections where election street plays incorporated a sign language interpreter was much appreciated by Deaf groups. A locally made access audit app enabled access audit of most polling booths in Chennai and its reporting to CEO’s server, very simple and easy.
Election Commissioner Shri Ashok Lavasa remarked that the set of recommendations (submitted by Svayam and other organizations) will be examined thoroughly and efforts will be made to implement them in a time-bound manner.