Sightsavers India takes a step forward in making elections inclusive with participation of people with disabilities

December 2018

The just concluded assembly elections in Chhattisgarh for 90 seats witnessed close to 74% voter turnout.

The final numbers which will be shared by the Election Commission may go a little higher. What we witnessed in the state was also a wave of ‘accessible elections’. Sightsavers, a leading development sector organization working towards eliminating avoidable blindness and supporting people with disabilities to adequately lead lives of independence and dignity along with its local partner Samerth, took steps in the right direction to enable people with disabilities to proactively participate during the election polls conducted recently.

Sightsavers under its Social Inclusion programme carried out the accessible elections drive with its partner. The Social Inclusion programme is focused around three core areas: economic empowerment, strengthening Disabled People’s Organizations (DPOs) and creating an enabling environment. It aims to provide support to the people who are differently abled and facilitate the formation and capacity building of DPOs to carry out effective advocacy for their rights on all platforms and levels. A state level workshop for sensitization of election team was conducted in collaboration with Samerth supported by Sightsavers India and State Election Commission in Raipur on 18th September towards accessible election initiative. The workshop saw participation of representatives from 27 districts.

In order to create awareness, Sightsavers India and Samerth developed a film in sign language to sensitize the booth level election officers to communicate with the people with hearing impairment. The film received appreciation at state and national level. Another film was also made to create awareness amongst voters with special focus on people with disabilities. Trainings were provided to the master trainers at the Regional level Election team where the focus was on sign language, leaving a deep impact on the collectors after which the polling booths were made accessible for the PWDs. They were also provided with pick and drop services at the booths. Many polling booths had voting machines in Braille for the blind and visually impaired. Each booth had at least two wheelchairs and accessible washrooms for the persons with disabilities.

Speaking about making elections inclusive, Mr RN Mohanty, CEO Sightsavers India said, “Sightsavers’ Social Inclusion Programme seeks to create an enabling environment for people with disabilities to lead a life of dignity with equal participation at all forums. Voting during elections is undoubtedly one of the most significant rights in a democracy for people to exercise. Inclusion in the election process with complete participation of people with disabilities (PWDs) is a step in the right direction to ensure that we leave no one behind. Everyone in the state including government authorities and the people seem to be motivated by inclusive election and we feel that this would only help in increasing the number of voters for the coming years.”

About Sightsavers: Sightsavers is a global development organization working in India since 1966 to eliminate avoidable blindness and to ensure that people who are irreversibly blind are supported adequately to lead lives of independence and dignity. Today, it works with partner organizations across major states in India bringing eye healthcare, educational support, training and leadership development to visually impaired people in some of the least served areas. It works sustainably for lasting change – by strengthening existing health systems, seeking to advocate with governments and by demonstrating best practices. Sightsavers believes in promoting indigenous technologies in eye healthcare to ensure a wider reach.

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