Mumbai's differently abled are all set to vote on April 24

Refusing to turn disability into inability, the physically challenged are ready to brave the odds to get the dot on their finger on April 24

With April 24 V-Day, which is Vote Day just around the corner, physically-challenged citizens of the island city are all set to defy the odds and vote.

AID AT HAND: Disabled people will be given a helping hand by polling booth officials. PIC/Shahdab Khan

Climbing trouble
Shahbaz Alam,  a Mankhurd resident who uses crutches to walk will be making sure that his vote counts. Alam says, “I believe that we all need to vote. But for me getting to my election booth is a real struggle.” In the past few elections, Alam has always got a booth that is on the first floor. He says,  “It takes me a long time to climb the stairs. At rush hours I have been pushed around, so I cast my ballot at odd hours — around 2 pm or late in the evening, before voting ends. Once I asked if I could vote on the ground floor but the election people said that I had to vote only in my booth.”  For Santosh Kharat from Chembur, a polio patient, a ground-floor booth is preferable. He says, “I always like to go to the booth at a less crowded hour. Once I got a first floor booth and reached there with great difficulty.” For both Alam and Kharat their disability is not an excuse.

BRAILLE BONUS: Dr Sam Taraporevala (left) is happy that all EVM machines are now Braille enabled in India. PIC/Sameer Markande

Blind aid
Visually-challenged Dharmarajan Iyer, 55, who works at the Forward Market Commission says, “Braille impressions on Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) are available but  only in select centres. Last elections, my wife helped me vote. Usually the polling booth authorities help people like us.” The Ghatkopar resident says, “I want to vote. So even though my polling booth is at a distance from my house, (Chembur) I will go.” Nidhi Goyal,  who is also visually challenged says,  “The EVM machines have a sequence which is standard and it is party-wise so I am familiar with that. The election authorities tell me the sequence and I feel the machine, count the numbers and then vote. The sound that comes after the ballot has been cast helps me know that my vote has been registered.”

SEEING IS BELIEVING: Visually challenged Nidhi Goyal

Well-equipped EVMs
The National Association for the Blind (NAB) has had sessions to help visually- challenged people get used to the EVMs with Braille.  An orientation programme by NAB, similar to the ones carried out in other parts of the country was also conducted in Mumbai in the run-up to the polls. Dr Sam Taraporevala, Head of Sociology at St Xavier’s College and director of Xavier’s Resource Centre for the Visually Challenged (XRCVC) says, “All EVM machines, as per a default requirement, have Braille labels so visually- challenged people can vote with ease.”

LINE SMILE:  Special lines are a plus for disabled people feels Bablu Thakur

Help on the way
The Election Commission has provided special wheelchairs and volunteers too. Manohar Pande, a volunteer at the D N Nagar polling booth says, “We will be helping the visually and physically challenged as well as old voters to get to the polling booth. Some political parties help but they do that with vested interest. But we just want to help those in need.”
Preferring to go along with family and friends to vote as he cannot walk without support, Bablu Thakur from the South Central constituency says, “There’s a special line for handicapped people at polling booths. The same line is also for senior citizens which makes it longer than it should be. I generally check with others who have already voted about the crowd at the booth, so that I don’t end up standing for long.”
Positive changes
Seeing that the EC and politicians have become very considerate towards physically challenged voters makes Tukaram Sadanand Pathak (78) very happy. The Dadar resident, who is crippled says, “As a voter who is handicapped, I feel nice that state authorities actually care about my vote and my needs.”

Helping hand

The Election Commission states: persons with any physical infirmity if they require assistance are permitted to take along a companion of not less than 18 years for recording their vote. A separate queue is allotted for physically handicapped persons at all election booths and it is mandatory that they carry a handicap certificate or some proof with them when they go to vote. One officer at each polling station is responsible for providing facilities to disabled voters; action is taken in case there are complaints.

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