Last election, B. Suresh was under under pressure from his escort to compromise on his choice of the candidate as being visually impaired, he could not exercise his franchise without help.
But this time, the thirty-year-old voter from Ongole is happy as the Election Commission, in a first in the State, has introduced Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) with the Braille signage features so that the differently-abled voters can exercise their franchise without the assistance of an escort.
“Now, I can maintain secrecy as to whom I would vote. The move will certainly forestall the intimidation of voters and vote buying,” he said.
Equally happy was Ch. Srinivasa Reddy from Yeragondapalem who had chosen to abstain from exercising his franchise in the previous elections for the same reason. “I can vote this time on my own,” he said after reading the dummy Braille ballot paper himself at a Systematic Voters Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) awareness programme organised for the Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) here on Sunday.
“The dummy Braille ballot paper had the serial numbers of candidates and their names. It was easy to read,” said a confident Rathamma, another visually challenged voter, after the hands-on experience on the blind-friendly EVMs during the mock polling exercise.
Illiterate Persons with disability who could not read the Braille signature features can still opt for the escort while voting, Visually Challenged Employees Association president Y.Venkateswara Reddy, a librarian at Dornala, said.
Another set of differnetly-abled voters who felt shy attending the awareness programmes held for the general public attended the special awareness programme for thee persons suffering from speech and hearing impairment.
Mr. Ammagunta Raghu, a teacher of Government Residential School for Hearing Handicapped, explained the voters through sign language the features of the control unit, balloting unit and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT). The VVPAT is also being introduced for the first time for the simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the Assembly this year.
“We have made the necessary arrangements for the PwDs so that they can exercise their franchise sans hassles,” B. Ravi, Chief Executive Officer, Society for Training and Employment (STEP) and in-charge of SVEEP, explained after educating the participants on ethical voting.
There are more than 33,400 differently-abled voters in Prakasam district and all of them have been identified polling booth-wise, said Disabled Welfare Project Officer B. Singaiah while referring to the Software For Assessment of Disabled for Access Rehabilitation and Empowerment (SADAREM) records.
Facilities at booths
“The voters will be provided with minimum basic facilities at the polling stations including ramps, wheel-chairs, signage boards, designated parking,” Mr. Singaiah, whi is also MEPMA Project Director, said.
Now, the different-abled voters need not wait for their turns for voting standing in the queue, he said, adding that transport facilities would also be arranged to the extent required.
The differently-abled voters were assisted to download the Voter Accessibility App for the Differently Abled (VAADA) app, which has text, voice and Geographic Information System (GIS) interface, from the Google Play Store at the special awareness programme.