Gujarat polls: Election Commission steps in to increase differently-abled voters' presence

Gujarat polls: Election Commission steps in to increase differently-abled voters' presence
Ahmedabad: In a bid to increase participation of differently-abled voters in Gujarat Assembly polls next month, the Election Commission has introduced Braille numbers and ballot papers besides setting up ramps at polling booths for their convenience.

"All electronic voting machines (EVMs) will be equipped with Braille numbers. The visually challenged voters will be able to read the names of candidates with the help of Braille ballot paper at the polling booths. Thereafter, they can seal their votes by pressing the Braille numbers corresponding to the name of candidates they wish to vote for," state Chief Electoral Officer Anita Karwal said.

Though Braille voting was there during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the Election Commission is making an extra effort this time to spread awareness among people with special challenges to exercise their franchise, Ms Karwal said.

"Permanent or temporary ramps have been set up at every polling station enabling physically challenged voters to exercise their franchise," Chief District (Ahmedabad) Election Officer Vijay Nehra said.

The polling staff has also been trained to be sensitive to the needs of people with special challenges, Mr Nehra said. He also said that physically challenged voters won't need to stand in long queues to cast their votes.

The state election administration is popularising Rule 49 (N), prescribed in the Handbook of Presiding Officers, distributed by ECI, which states that blind and infirm voters are legally permitted to be accompanied by a companion, he informed.

The companion would be selected by the visually challenged voter, who then cannot accompany any other differently-abled person, he added.

Appreciating the efforts of the ECI to spread awareness among differently-abled people to cast their vote, Blind People's Association (BPA) Executive Director Bhushan Punnani said the step sends across the message that even their votes are crucial.

"The government has realised the importance of giving equal status to people with disabilities. It raises their dignity and respect and will ease their merging into the mainstream," Mr Punnani said.

According to the 2001 Census figures, close to two percent of voters in Gujarat suffer from various forms of disabilities, he said.

The Blind People's Association, which changed its name from Blind Men's Association in 1998, works for providing equal opportunities for people with disabilities.