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Progress on issue of Braille for visually impaired voters

DNIS News Network - Javed Abidi, Convenor of Disabled Rights Group (DRG) and a delegation of blind activists met with the election commissioner on September 29, to finalise arrangements vis--vis disabled friendly voting processes for the visually impaired people.

In order to arrive at a solution in a participative manner, a delegation including Vichitra Vijay, Patron, National Federation of the Blind; Dr Ashwani Kumar Agarwal, Joint Secretary, National Association for the Blind; Baldev Gulati, Executive Director, Navprerna; A. David, Placement Officer, The Blind Relief Association and Mr Rajshekhar, Programme Officer, Deepalaya, met with the Deputy Election Commissioner, A.N. Jha.

The issue discussed was Braille signage so that the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) can be made accessible for visually impaired voters. Jha disclosed that two or three prototypes were being made ready at the Electronics Corporation of India in Hyderabad. They are to be 'tested' on October 1. DRG members have been invited by the Election Commission to be present for this test run in Hyderabad.

An assurance has been given by the Election Commission (EC) that if the test-run is successful, the EVM would be used in at least some constituencies, especially in the by-election to the Asif Nagar constituency in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh.

After a detailed discussion, it was agreed that the best and the most pragmatic way out is to have the buttons on the EVM numbered in Braille, while the list of candidates with their respective serial numbers and their election symbol will be available in Braille (in the concerned language depending on the region/state) with the Presiding Officer of the polling station.

EC has also stated that while mass production of EVMs may not be possible for these elections, at least the list of the candidates will be printed out in Braille in the urban constituencies of Maharashtra.

On the issue of extending the services only to urban disabled voters, Abidi recorded reservation and anguish with EC. He said, "DRG is not willing to accept the situation where the ramps for disabled and the Braille list of candidates for the visually impaired is made available only to the urban disabled voters."

It is the first time in the history of independent India that a serious attempt is being made by the EC to ensure that visually impaired voters are able to exercise their franchise in an independent and dignified manner.