Making sure people with disabilities can vote – our work in India

Stories | September 26, 2019

People with disabilities have the right to vote along with everyone else, but they often miss out on this opportunity.

Some of the barriers preventing people with disabilities from voting include: inaccessible polling booths, lack of accessible voting machines, lack of knowledge and guidance about how to vote, and poorly trained polling officers who do not know how to interact with people with disabilities. Steps are being taken to eliminate these barriers so that people with disabilities who are eligible are able to cast their vote.

In Gorakhpur (India), Purvanchal Gramin Seva Samiti (PGSS), CBM’s partner organisation wanted to ensure that people with disabilities took part in the 2019 General Election. This was one of the world’s biggest elections, with 900 million people eligible to vote. PGSS worked with the District Administration of Gorakhpur and participated in their Voter Awareness Rally. Their slogan was, “Accessible Elections – 100% inclusion of people with disability”.

As part of the Voter Awareness Rally, at the beginning, there was a process of cross checking who was left off the voters’ list.  

Work was done with the local DPO and the Sub-divisional Magistrate to cross check which people with disabilities were on and not on the list. The DPO leaders played a big part in getting the lists updated.

The barriers faced by people with disabilities were recognised, such as accessing polling booths, inadequate voter education, and an inability to vote independently and privately. A decision was made to assess the entire polling process to make sure it was accessible for people with disabilities – Braille signage was included, and volunteers were allocated at each polling centre to assist people with disabilities.

Forty volunteers with disabilities and DPO leaders were selected as ‘Booth Ambassadors’ and were trained on overseeing India’s electronic voting machines, and the process of supervising people through the voting process, referencing the Electoral Commission’s guidelines for Accessible Elections. Their role was to support accessibility and highlight any areas for improvement at their nominated voting centres. Awareness campaigns were run in different areas in collaboration with NGOs, schools, government departments, welfare organisations, the media and community groups.

In Bharatpur, Chauri Chaura and Gorakhpur there were street plays encouraging people with disabilities to vote. There was a rally of people with disabilities in their tricycles and wheelchairs, highlighting the importance of voting and raising awareness that there were facilities available at polling stations for people with disabilities.

Overall, it was a successful campaign that promoted the rights of people with disabilities.

Newspapers reported that voter turnout was 61.1 per cent at Chauri Chaura, which was higher in comparison to the previous election. Not only that, it raised awareness on disability rights more broadly, and was a great way of getting the DPOs supported by PGSS to be active in yet another area of civil engagement.

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