Disability Rights Alliance, India (DRA), a collective of disabled persons’ organizations (DPOs) in India, has taken significant steps to increase access to the political process, recently drafting a 12-point charter on the rights of persons with disabilities to participate politically. The charter highlights availability of personal assistance while voting and inclusion of persons living in institutions, among other issues.
DRA has conducted trainings for elections officials and police in Tamil Nadu on inclusion and accessibility of voters with disabilities. Training materials developed by DRA include discussion of barriers, reasonable accommodation, and rights of persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities.
As a result of DRA's ongoing advocacy, ECI adopted a tableau for the 2016 elections with the theme of Inclusive and Qualitative Electoral Participation. The tableau highlighted a model polling station, which included accommodations for persons with disabilities. The murals were part of a vigorous public voter information campaign by the ECI in Tamil Nadu, during which information on accessible voting booths was included as a result of DRA’s lobbying efforts, which expanded knowledge on rights of persons with disabilities to vote. Articles in local newspapers and online publications increased the reach of the campaign, and DRA created multiple advertisements and slogans, which can be accessed here.
Working closely with the Election Commission of India (ECI), DRA has successfully provided input to expand ECI’s checklist for accessible polling stations, to select a focal point on inclusion of voters with disabilities, to print braille ballots, to ensure priority queueing for voters with disabilities, and to increase the mandated number of basic minimum facilities for accessibility. ECI also announced in March that it will make its official website accessible, for which a resource on accessible websites developed by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) was shared with the ECI. DRA has also taken steps to increase candidacy among persons with disabilities, resulting in ECI providing instructions to elections officials to accept candidacy forms of persons with disabilities outside of their offices if the offices are inaccessible.
DRA’s advocacy with election officials has been accompanied by programs aimed at increasing access to voter registration and voting processes to people with disabilities whether they are living at home or in institutions. DRA utilized local laws and the CRPD, as well as video recordings of youth with developmental & intellectual disabilities on the decision making rights of persons with disabilities, to lobby with Election Officials on the right to vote for persons with intellectual/psycho social disabilities. DRA also worked with the Disability Network in the Indian state of Kerala to facilitate securing a court order to allow persons with psychosocial disabilities in Kerala access to voter registration. Smitha Sadasivan, a member of DRA, discussed DRA’s experiences working on these programs on the Strategies for overcoming double marginalization in the political process panel of the South Asia Regional Disability Rights Dialogue on Political Participation organized by IFES.
“Inclusion of diverse groups like persons with disabilities on electoral rolls and their political participation are essential for the realistic & holistic development of persons with disabilities; However, actual inclusion would happen only when persons with disabilities are included with mutual respect in each and every step of electoral process and other developmental processes whether crucial decision making dialogues or trainings of different cadres of officials / sections of people or implementation of laws and policies with the motto of UNCRPD ‘Nothing about us, without us’.”
– Smitha Sadasivan, Disability Rights Alliance, INDIA (DRA)
DRA’s new mobile application, “Election Audit”, enabled citizens to check the accessibility of local polling stations, providing them with the opportunity to advocate for more inclusive polling places. The app asked specific questions about features of the polling station such as lighting, hand rails, and ramps. Data collected by the app got stored on the server of the Chief Electoral Officer and made available to elections officials. Finally, the app was available for use by registered volunteers, and periodic reports on polling place accessibility were submitted to elections officials.