Democracy, in the dark: Blind voters are left at the mercy of attendants; say not all EVMs are Braille-enabled

With elections on, blind and visually impaired voters say not all have received Braille-enabled voter ID cards, nor are most EVMs Braille-friendly. Sometimes, they don't even know who their helper presses their vote for.

 |  4-minute read |   16-04-2019
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Their world remains dark — and so, ultimately, does the candidate whom they are voting for.

Blind voters say that not all EVMs are Braille-enabled even now. Ramesh (40) says that not every booth has got Braille EVMs. “A special election booth is made at the Blind School, Kingsway Camp, in Delhi. Over here, the EVM is fitted with Braille to help us know the candidate we are voting for.”

But that is an exception.

braille-india-today._041519012608.jpgVisually impaired people say they get training to use EVMs with Braille. But this is not always the rule. (Source: India Today)

Training on how to use Braille EVMs — When?

The Election Commission of India (ECI) has said that India's visually impaired and blind voters will be provided with braille voter slips to cast their vote. Braille is a script with raised dots that can be read with their fingers by people who are blind or who have low vision. It is a tactile reading and writing system used by visually impaired people who can't access print material.

“Every time elections take place, special training is given to us on how the Braille enabled voting machines are used. This time, though, till now the classes haven’t taken place,” said Lakhan Singh (33).

blind-inside_041519012711.jpgAll ready. But where to go? Many visually impaired voters haven't even received their Braille voter ID cards. (Source: Author)

What about Braille voter ID cards?

To help these voters, the Commission has told all chief electoral officers to issue accessible photo voter slips with Braille to voters who are visually impaired.

But, “Only a handful of blind people have received such Braille voter ID cards. I don’t have it — neither do most of my friends. I guess by the time the Election Commission will be in a position to distribute it to all of us, the elections will be over,” added Ramesh.

blind-inside3_041519012824.jpgYou're on your own: Polling officials don't usually help the visually impaired. (Source: Author)

Problems at the poll booth

Blind voters say that they face a lot of difficulty at polling booths as well. Daya Shankar (44), who sells namkeen at a roadside, says: “All blind people are entitled to have an attendant to accompany them inside the booth. Now, our votes are decided by the people who go with us — they generally take our hand and press on which party button they want to.” All of them say, that leave aside having Braille-fitted EVMs — which all of them are not — why not have buttons with sound, so that blind people know who they are voting for?

Veer Bahadur (30) says: “Most of the booths don’t have polling officials who can hold our hands and guide us to the booth. We do get inked on our fingers, there are no separate queues or sections for us to cast our votes. In the last assembly elections, we were given a document with guidelines in Braille for us to study before going into the booth. There was no help at the booth from the polling officials.”

EVMs today need to have raised party symbols, say visually impaired voters, so that they can identify whether they are voting for a hand, a car or a lotus.

ballot-pti-inside_041519012918.jpgThe ballot box was better than EVMs for visually impaired voters. (Source: PTI)

'Ballot paper was better'

Blind people say that the ballot paper was much better as they knew where the Congress and BJP were on the list.

Lal Tiwari (60), who works in a government job, says: “During the previous elections, we knew where to put the stamp. Even candidates would come and tell us that Congress is at the top and BJP is at number two in the list. Lok Sabha elections are too big for us — politicians don’t even care to campaign where we live.”

Most of them have the same issues. Many say that getting bumped into by others has become a routine but turning a deaf ear towards their issues has been the norm of authorities. Sharif Ahmed (55) says: “I have been jobless for the last 7 years. No one wants to give us any jobs, they think — what will we do? Leave aside jobs, getting educated is another challenge for us as there are very few schools for the blind in the city.” Some say that even in the metro, a city's lifeline, they have to wait for at least 20 minutes before a metro staff can come and take them to the platform. “I often stand at the platform and ask passersby to take me to the platform or outside the station, as the metro staff take more than 15 minutes to come and take us around.”

Waiting at the metro. Waiting to vote.

Will we condemn our visually impaired to wait in this darkness forever?

Also read: 2019 Elections: Can the BJP pull off a Tripura in Odisha polls?

Writer

Rohit David Rohit David @rohitedavid

Senior Assistant Editor, DailyO

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