Blind can vote without help at the polls

New Delhi, March 25: It is aimed at giving the blind voter dignity and secrecy. For the first time, Braille-facilitated electronic voting machines (EVMs) are being introduced on a large scale for the 15th Lok Sabha polls.

‘A total of 1.05 million EVMs are being used, of which 450,000 are Braille-enabled. These EVMs are spread across the country in many states,’ an Election Commission official told IANS.

He said earlier the rule was that one person would accompany the blind voter. ‘Now, the blind persons can cast their vote without any help.’

India is estimated to be home to at least 15 million blind people.

The facilities provided by the poll panel have not come easily. The Election Commission was petitioned by activists and NGOs working in the disability sector to create the necessary infrastructure for disabled people, including the sizeable blind population.

Fighting for this cause was the Delhi-based Disability Rights Group, which approached the Supreme Court and got a favourable ruling in 2004.

So the first time the Election Commission used Braille-facilitated EVMs was in a by-election in Andhra Pradesh in 2004, soon after the apex court ruling.

‘After it proved successful, we used it subsequently and expanded it whenever there were elections in different states,’ the official said.

But this is the very first time that Braille-enabled machines will be used on such a large scale in parliamentary polls.

According to Satbir Silas Bedi, Delhi’s chief electoral officer, the assembly elections held last year in the national capital had the Braille facility on EVMs.

‘The idea behind this move was that the blind voter would be guaranteed dignity and secrecy of his vote,’ Bedi told IANS.

Before the introduction of these EVMs, which have a strip of paper encoding the options in Braille stuck on it, the blind voter used to be accompanied by an officer who would help him cast his vote, Bedi said.

Welcoming the step, George Abraham, who runs the NGO Score Foundation that works for the blind, said: ‘It’s a wonderful initiative. It will enable the visually impaired to not only exercise their rights but also educate others.’

‘I want more and more blind people to come forward and vote and have their say,’ said 50-year-old Abraham, who will be voting this time after a long gap as he has finally got his voter identity card after a few hiccups.

However, he pointed out, there are a large number of blind people who do not know Braille.

‘There are many visually impaired who don’t know Braille. So I hope they will be allowed to take their relatives along when they are casting their vote.’

The Election Commission official also said they would continue to allow blind people to take along a person to assist them to vote.

Abraham suggested that the poll panel could have conducted a survey to find out how many blind people are there in a constituency. ‘They could have assessed the situation easily. The survey would have shown them which constituency needs such Braille-enabled EVMs and which do not.’

Abraham said as compared to the 2007 assembly elections, this time many NGOs are actively working to promote Braille-enabled EVMs among blind people.

‘In the US, the voting machine also has a talking device that gives out all the information at the press of a button. Here too such a step can be taken so that everyone can understand. Braille has limited access. But voice could include more people. Maybe, the (Election) Commission can decide on that in future.’