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Hail the braille

Wed, 04/17/2024 - 10:26 -- geeta.nair

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM : A large number of visually impaired voters in Kerala are hoping to exercise their franchise independently this year, leveraging ballot papers in braille and braille-enabled electronic voting machines (EVMs).

Though the Election Commission had initiated the provision during the 2016 assembly election, most visually impaired voters continued to rely on assistance. Over time, however, there has been an increasing number of visually impaired voters who seek to vote autonomously, according to Kerala Federation of the Blind (KFB).

“There has always been a lack of transparency with the open voting system. Voting with the help of another person is against the free will and conscience,” said KFB general secretary Abdul Hakkim.

“There have been instances where the assisting persons pressured the visually impaired voters to cast votes for particular candidates. Moreover, there will always be a doubt whether the assisting person actually pressed the button for the intended candidate. With the braille system, we do not have to depend on anyone.”

Abdul added that some visually impaired voters seek to verify their assisted vote. “But this has its own risk of divulging the details in the open,” he said.

Kerala is home to about three lakh visually impaired individuals. Most of the people born with visual impairments have acquired braille skills during their schooling, barring those who lost their sight later in life.

Section 11 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, addresses the accessibility needs of people with visual impairment. And this led to the adoption of braille-enabled voting facilities.

“Voting with the help of an assistant is prone to complaints. We do not promote it,” said former judge S H Panchapakesan, head of the State Commissionerate for Persons with Disabilities, who is overseeing the printing of braille ballots for the upcoming polls. “With the help of braille-enabled facilities the voter can easily identify their choice and cast the vote.”

The ‘dummy ballot’ in braille consists of the candidate name, serial number, symbol, and party – in the same order as in the EVM. These braille ballots help voters familiarise with the format and layout of an Electronic Voting Machine.

The braille ballots will be made available at all polling stations, and visually impaired voters can identify their candidates of choice and cast their vote by following the serial number in braille on the EVM.

Braille signage is provided on the balloting units of the EVMs. On the right side of the unit, next to the candidates’ vote buttons, digits 1 to 16 are embossed in braille to help the visually impaired voters identify their choice.

The Kerala Federation of the Blind has undertaken the task of printing the braille ballots. “We have completed the printing for 16 constituencies. We will finish the rest in the next two days,” said Abdul.

“The ballots are printed after several rounds of proofing and with approval of officials concerned. The printed material will be handed over to

the Election Commission by April 20.”

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