The election officials in Goa have done their best to stay true to the stated mission of the Election Commission of India – “Leave No Voter Behind.” Special arrangements such as the provision of wheelchair taxis, manual magnifiers, Braille ballot papers, wheelchairs and ramps were made to encourage high participation of differently-abled individuals in the elections. But, one of the most remarkable features of Lok Sabha elections in Goa was the existence of two special polling booths manned exclusively by differently-abled officials set up in both the parliamentary constituencies.
For the first time, two polling booths, at Institute Menezes Braganza in Panaji and Comba in Margao were completely handled by differently-abled individuals. Be it the polling staff or a peon, everything was entirely managed by them. This was done by state election officials to instil confidence among them and make the experience of these officials pleasant and enjoyable.
Sudesh Gaude, the assistant director of social welfare convinced and encouraged differently-abled individuals to participate in the election duty. While talking to the Gomantak Times, he said, “Special training was given to differently-abled individuals and after the duty, the workers were very happy and sent me a message that they will work in future elections also as they have now acquired confidence.”
An officer, Suraj Naik who worked at Booth no. 7 in the North Goa constituency said, “There was a master trainer who taught us how to operate the voting machine, ensure secrecy and also told us the importance of maintaining the register.” On being asked about his experience after the election duty, he told that they got a lot of attention and appreciation from people, media and officials which made him feel wonderful and that he loved doing the election duty. Naik has a lower right leg and right hand missing, so before the election duty, he was anxious about the arrangements made for the usage of restrooms, but after the duty, he said that all the facilities were within reach, reported Newz Hook.
Vyankatesh Sawant who worked as a special presiding officer at the same booth took it as an opportunity given to differently-abled individuals to prove their abilities. According to him, “It makes a powerful statement when people see us there on the voting day. It’s a positive message to the world.”
Disability rights activist, Vishant Nagvekar felt that this will break stereotypes, instil confidence and encourage the differently-abled community to participate more in the electoral process.