The very foundation of a democracy lies in the representation of all stakeholders and an indispensable part of nation-building starts with the inclusion of all in its electoral process. To uphold the spirit of free and fair elections, Election Commission of India declared ‘Accessible Elections’ as the theme for this year’s National Voters’ Day, i.e. 25th January 2018. The theme seamlessly integrates with the underlying philosophy of universal adult suffrage and the concept of ‘No Voter to be Left Behind.’
On 3rd and 4th July 2018, the Election Commission of India organized a National Consultation on Accessible Elections at ‘The Lalit’, New Delhi, wherein all the 36 Chief Electoral Officers and representatives from Civil Society Organisations, working in the field of Disability deliberated upon ways and means to make elections completely accessible to Persons with Disabilities.
The two-day Consultation was also attended by representatives of national political parties and senior officials from Ministries apart from notable media organisations.
Ahead of the National Consultation, a series of Consultations with the stakeholders were conducted in Districts and States across the country to identify the existing barriers and challenges, assess the implementation of the directives given by Commission on the subject, consolidate and gain from good practices (including innovations and technological support) and for further engagement with the stakeholders. The reports of the Consultations from the States were documented into the Consultation Reader and the same were carefully assessed and analyzed in the National Consultation.
Recommendations of the National Consultation would pave the way for a policy document on ‘Accessible Elections’ and action plan for the upcoming elections.
To make elections accessible to persons with disabilities, efforts have been taken up in past years. A well designed framework of guidelines has been directed by Commission for facilitating PwDs at every step in the electoral process. Many States and Union Territories have done exemplary work for overcoming the barriers and creating accessible and friendly environment for PwDs. The International Conference on ‘Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) in Electoral Processes’, held in January, 2018, aided to consolidate and gain from international experience. Prior to this, the Commission's resolve in support of inclusion of PwDs has also been conveyed through official directives dated March 12, 2016 and September 7, 2016.
The National Consultation on Accessible Elections opened with an enthusiastic start with the participation of more than 50 Civil Society Organizations and all the Chief Electoral Officers of States/UTs besides members of National Political Parties and Ministries, Government of India.Reaffirming ECI’s commitment to make elections entirely inclusive, accessible and hassle free for PwDs, Chief Election Commissioner Mr O P Rawat said in the inaugural session - “Despite having International, National laws and treaties or procedures in place, there is still a gap in reaching out to PwDs because of the apathy towards electoral process. I urge all the participants to suggest effective measures and help us devise a policy that can serve as a model framework for all Election Management Bodies of the world. Master Ram Chandra, a technician who was instrumental in creating the Jaipur Foot, which is now famous worldwide for providing assistance to PwDs and like him there are many famous as well as unsung heroes who are the part of war against disability.”
In addition to that, Election Commissioner Mr Ashok Lavasa highlighted the importance of collaboration with stakeholders and society as a whole, while laying emphasis on awareness initiatives and spirit of volunteering among people to make the entire electoral process accessible. Concluding his remarks he said - “More Sensitized we are, More Sensible we become.”
The first day of consultation also witnessed the launch of new dynamic website for ECI’s SVEEP (Systematic Voter’s Education and Electoral Participation) Division with a dedicated section on PwDs and state of the art security and accessibility features.
The first technical session commenced with a presentation by the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment followed by the presentation of Best Practices on Accessible Elections by the Chief Electoral Officers of Karnataka, West Bengal, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Meghalaya and District Election Officer of Mandya, Karnataka.
Break Out Groups
Post lunch, the participants of the National Consultation were divided into five groups, for discussions under the second technical session, to cover specific disabilities.
- Group 1: Blindness and Low Vision
- Group 2: Deaf and hard of hearing and mental illness
- Group 3: Locomotor Disability including cerebral palsy, leprosy cured, dwarfism, acid attack victims, muscular dystrophy
- Group 4: Intellectual disability including autism, specific learning disability
Group 5: Multiple disabilities including deaf-blindness
The groups read through the reports submitted by States/UT and assessed barriers, challenges specific to the disabilities; studied existing initiatives, took inputs from the participating CSOs and came up with findings and recommendations for thematic presentations.
The second day of the consultation observed three panel discussions under the final technical session which featured presentations from representatives from each of the five groups. The theme for these panel discussions were as follows –
- Theme 1: Accessible Registration Process including use of IT
- Theme 2 : Accessible Polling Station including EVM/VVPAT & other Facilitation measures
Theme 3 : Voter Education and leveraging Partnerships
The Closing Session of the National Consultation on Accessible Elections was graced by the presence of Hon'ble Chief Election Commissioner Mr O. P. Rawat, and Election Commissioners Mr Sunil Arora and Mr Ashok Lavasa. The Commission announced the following measures for the facilitation of PwDs.
- Printing of EPIC (Electors Photo Identity Card) with Braille for Persons with Visual Impairment or Blind,
- Accessible Communication Awareness Materials
- A Mobile Application to motivate and educate
- Appointment of Disability Coordinators at AC, District and State Level 5. Cascaded training on Accessibility to Poll officials
- Auxiliary Polling Stations
- Accessible Photo Voter Slips
- Sign Language window in all the audio visual training and advertisement content material for the convenience of deaf persons
- Free Transport Facility for PwDs and their Assistants
- A new Accessible Division in India International Institute of Democracy and Electoral Management (IIIDEM), New Delhi
Strategic Framework for Accessible Elections
The deliberations held during the two day consultation resulted in a comprehensive, “Strategic Framework on Accessible Elections” which will help in making electoral process more accessible in the forthcoming State and National Elections. It would be a significant step in pursuit of Election Commission’s mission to leave no voter behind. The Strategic Framework on Accessible Elections is built around sensitization through education and training, community involvement of different sections of society, effective partnership with institutions and origination and creation of facilities to cater to the specific needs of Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) with a view to increasing their participation.
You can read more about the Strategic Framework and its contents by following the given link - http://ecisveep.nic.in/news/election-commission-of-india-unveils-strategic-framework-on-accessible-elections-r3/