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Goa election officials, NGOs come together to conduct accessibility audit of polling booths

Posted in General

May 20, 2019

Less than a month after voting ended in Goa’s two parliamentary
constituencies, local election officials and NGOs have come together to
undertake an accessibility audit of polling booths to ensure that the same
mistakes are not repeated in the bypolls.

Accessibility has been given a massive push in these general elections with
the Election Commission of India (ECI) making efforts to
ensure that people of different disability types are able to vote freely and

There were some hits and many misses but what is heartening is this news from
Goa, where an accessibility audit of polling booths was held by the
Office of the Returning Officer, Panaji and disability
rights NGOs. This comes less than a month after voting ended in Goa and is
perhaps the first time that such a step has been taken.

The move was at the behest of the recently formed organisation,
initiative for Disability awareness rights and
, after getting mixed reactions from voters with
disabilities from different parts of Goa.

We were very disappointed at the state of affairs. But what was good was
that some polling booths were excellent in design terms and also people
manning it. iDare felt there was hope also because polling booths in Goa
seemed to have fared much better than other states across the country. So,
we shot off a letter to the Chief Electoral Officer Goa with suggestions of
what could be done to make history in the Panaji bypolls. – Monika
Kshatriya, Secretary, iDare

The CEO was quick to respond and a plan was made to conduct a joint audit by
government agencies and three NGOs – iDare, Disability Rights
Association, Goa (DRAG)
and National Association of the
Blind (NAB)
. “Five auditors and volunteers from the NGO Childline
India conducted the audit on 11 May with logistical support from the
Returning Officer”, adds Kshatriya.

Among those to share feedback and participate in the subsequent trainings was
Sandhya Khalokhe of the Goa Special Schools
, who is also parent to a child with an intellectual and
physical disability.

“I found there was no sensitivity or awareness among the booth level
officers (BLOs) as well as police manning the voting booths”, said Sandhya.
She says she was not allowed to take her vehicle close to the booth even
after she explained that her son, who is eligible to vote, has difficulty
walking. “There was no wheelchair available outside either. It was inside
the booth and there was no volunteer or official to tell us where the
wheelchair was kept. Arrangements were made but there was no

Similarly, while there were provisions for escorts for people with
intellectual disabilities, this was not communicated to the booth level

Rajkumar Vaidya of Lok Niwas Pratishthan,
which was among the organisations participating in this initiative, says
there is need for advance training of polling and security officials. Vaidya
suggests three main areas of focus going ahead.

“Being well prepared in advance, have a checklist and things-to-do in place
and plan systematically. Sensitise all concerned officials/authorities
connected with polling, take NGOs into confidence, and work with them, and
make buildings that are polling booths permanently accessible as per
National Buildings Code provisions”.

The good news is that based on this exercise poll officials have organised
sensitisation training towards voters with disabilities for all BLOs. There
was another training by special educators to help voters who are either
mentally or intellectually disabled along with their guardians on the process
of voting.

Based on the audit, the Returning Officer has also made a list of the changes
required at each booth. This has been handed over the agency in charge. This
collaboration by NGOs and CEO Goa should set an example across India.

ALSO READ:’Loved the experience’, say the disabled officials who manned
polling booths in Goa elections


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