The Election Commission of India today organised a virtual National Conference on Accessible Elections 2021 with the objective to assess the present accessibility policies and discuss strategies for addressing barriers to enhance participation in electoral process for voters with disabilities. The virtual conference was attended by Chief Electoral Officers, Civil Society Organisations representing various disabilities and representatives from Government Ministries and Institutions.
Reaffirming Election Commission’s commitment to make elections more inclusive, accessible, and voter friendly for PwDs, Chief Election Commissioner, Shri Sushil Chandra said that the Commission values the decision making role of primary stakeholders – the voters including persons with disabilities, who can and should play a key role in electoral process. CEC added that all the meaningful inputs and recommendations suggested by Persons with Disabilities and their representative organisations are taken into consideration while framing guidelines for enhancing inclusivity and accessibility at every step of the electoral process. Shri Chandra reiterated ECI’s commitment in various international resolutions and mandates emphasising the inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in the electoral process. He emphasized the need for pleasant and dignified polling experience to PwDs. He mentioned that all polling stations are on ground floor equipped with ramp and wheelchairs, sufficient volunteers are kept at polling stations for smooth and hassle free election experience.
Election Commissioner Sh. Rajiv Kumar said that the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 provides for a legal mandate to ensure all polling stations to be made accessible for persons with disabilities and all material related to electoral process are easily understandable and usable by them. He added that the collective efforts of election officials and CSO stakeholders have contributed significantly in reaching out to a large number of electors with disabilities across the country, apart from building the electoral process accessible, safe and respectful for different population groups.
Election Commissioner Sh. Anup Chandra Pandey emphasised on the need for Community support systems to be strengthened by ways of advanced data processing, identifying community referral points and creating harmonised echo systems for specific citizens groups such as persons with disabilities and senior citizens. Shri Pandey added that Accessible Elections have always been a thrust area of the Commission, whereby ECI specifically focuses on the inclusion of all target groups, ensuring that everyone has equal access throughout the entire electoral process.
Secretary General, Shri Umesh Sinha said that ECI has timely organised this conference when the Commission is preparing for the forthcoming State Assembly Elections. Inputs received from various CEOs, CSOs and ECI Icons will be incorporated in the planning and preparation for elections to be more accessible, inclusive and voter friendly for PwDs and Senior Citizens.
It was informed that as on today about 77.4 lakhs PwDs are registered voters. Recognising that a strong and vibrant democracy is founded on the bedrock of inclusion and participation, today’s deliberations focused on themes of Identification/ mapping of PwDs, Accessible Registration, Facilitation at Polling Stations, Efficient use of Technology for Accessible elections, Accessible Voter Education and Leveraging Partnerships & Collaborations and Media Outreach. Significant Speakers from different CSOs including Director AADI, Executive Director, National Association of Deaf, Director, SPARC-India, Executive Director, NCPEDP, Executive Director BPA, representatives from ISLRTC & PDUNIPPD, as also ECI National Icon, Dr.Niru Kumar shared valuable inputs for making the election accessible and inclusive.
Based on suggestions received from different stakeholders, a resolution was adopted to pave the way forward to further streamline the policy framework on ‘Accessible Elections’, for future elections. Comprehensive monitoring mechanism and Accessibility Assessment of all polling Stations; Integration of all mainstream policies & programs for PwDs; training & sensitization of election personnel; increased awareness to improve understanding of disability ; improvised methods of data collection; awareness on postal ballot facility for PwDs; robust IVRS Helpline and online grievance mechanism and deployment of accessibility observers and micro observers to ensure accessibility at all levels of electoral process were some of the the ideas discussed during the virtual conference.
During the conference, Chief Election Commissioner Shri Sushil Chandra along with the Election Commissioners Shri Rajiv Kumar & Shri Anup Chandra Pandey released the following;
- Crossing the Barriers- Accessibility Initiatives 2021. The Booklet is a compilation of innovative practices & accessibility initiatives for facilitating and empowering PwD electors.
- Braille Language versions of recently launched initiatives like Voter Guide, Letter to the new voter, and a Song Booklet of 50 motivational songs on voter awareness.
- Sign Language versions of two awareness videos of Voter helpline app and EVM-VVPAT
- An evaluation study of Outcomes of SVEEP Activities and Facilities provided to PwDs in General Assembly Election 2018 & Lok Sabha Elections 2019 in Karnataka was also released by the Commission.
A presentation on accessibility initiatives taken so far by the Election Commission including the learnings & experiences from the recently poll gone states, was also shared with the participants.