By Priyanka Mary Francis, DEO Udupi
Slogan for 2018 election is centered on acronym - IAE – ‘Inclusive, Accessible and Ethical’. In this background the Karnataka Assembly Elections 2018, efforts were made to prepare the list of Persons with Disabilities(PwDs) - polling station wise, and on the type of difficulties – visually impaired, physically challenged, hearing impaired, from November 2017. To enroll, educate and to facilitate these special category of voters to cast their vote, a training programme was conducted for Rehabilitation Volunteers, heads of special schools and hostels.
Officials were informed to arrange a Helpline well in advance that takes care of transportation to and from voters residence, wheel chair facility for movement around the polling station on the day of poll.
On April 18, 2018 a special training programme was organized by SVEEP committee for visually impaired persons to educate on ethical voting. Mr. Deekshit, himself a visually impaired person, administered the Braille scripted oath to the participants. To impart the hands-on skills on EVMs and VVPAT a technical session was also arranged. On the lines of the saying “Just because a person lacks the use of one’s eyes, doesn’t mean that person lacks vision” Mr. Pakeerappa another visual PWD gave an account of his feelings on this issue.
On the same lines, Mrs.Prameela, a special school teacher, educated the speech and hearing impaired persons using sign language. The participants –Naveen, Ganesh, Prashanth, Niranjan, Fairoz took active part in the programme with lot of enthusiasm. Para gliding,boating and cultural events were organized for these specially-abled persons at Malpe Beach on the same evening.
To facilitate the easy movement of physically disabled voters around the polling localities, 555 wheel chairs were collected from private and public hospitals, NGOs and village panchayats. Volunteers drawn from NSS, NCC, and Scouts and Guides, Ranger-Rovers were kept ready to assist them. Magnifying lenses were provided at 336 polling stations. Whenever the PWDs were not able to have their own transport facility, village panchyats provided such a facility on preplanned demand.
A unique feature of the polling station No 81 at 119 Kundapur constituency, is that all the polling staff were PWDs. All these officials volunteered to perform their duty on the often quoted line “Disability need not be an obstacle to success.” In this polling station, ramp, wheel chair, walker, walking stick, blind stick, toilet for specially-abled persons, magnifying glass, pendals for shade, drinking water, seating arrangement, medical and volunteer assistance were specially arranged. Mr. Neetish, a PWD, who is working in a private organisation,has appreciated the initiatives of the election commission. He also recollected the pains he used to undergo in the past. Similarly Deepa Shetty and Nagendra appreciated the provision of magnifying glass in the polling booths.
Mr. Manjunatha, Hearing impaired Aged about 45 Years, Son of Bedu Devadiga was guided to vote by special school teacher Mrs.Prameela in sign language. Candidates name, photo, symbol, voting method, details on VVPAT communicated by the teacher. After this learning process, the confident Mr. Manjunath became very happy and voted on his own.After the voting he expressed his happiness by sign language.He was happy about the facilities provided by the administration for the Pwd voters for the first time. His contentment about voting was really a lesson for “so called” educated, modern people who are reluctant to involve in the democratic process.
All these happy examples laid a milestone in the history of Udupi District and definitely gave the message that “Never ignore somebody with a disability, you don’t realize how much they can inspire you”