Published on January 26, 2020

AHMEDABAD: In the 2019 general election, about 60,000 persons with disabilities (PwD) from Gujarat voted in the festival of democracy. According to experts, this was one of the highest turnouts for PwDs, largely due to several initiatives that made voting booths accessible to wheelchairs and facilitated transport at several places.

The inclusion needed more than that push. Dr Bhushan Punani, executive secretary of city-based Blind People’s Association (BPA), said awareness about the voting process was equally important. “We realized while devising a strategy that there was no sign language for electronic voting machines (EVM) and the voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) unit. We devised symbols for these, along with the voting process, the inking of the finger and the casting of votes. This was utilized across the country to increase awareness,” he said.

This was an initiativs that won the BPA honours at the 10th National Voters’ Day, celebrated by the Election Commission of India (ECI) on Saturday. Dr Punani was among the 20 awardees at the function. He received the award on behalf of the organization from President Ram Nath Kovind, in the category of Civil Services Organization.

“Another initiative implemented in Gujarat was the audio electoral roll or ballot papers. Once candidates for all 26 seats were announced by the ECI, we recorded details such as index number, name and party’s symbol for each constituency and circulated it among election officers. It was later circulated to voters with disabilities,” said Punani. “What we did not realize then was the fact that it also helped inform voters without formal education who had to solely rely on party symbols.”

For the first time, all officers on election duty were trained to make the elections more inclusive, said ECI officials.

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