EVMs not accessible to visually impaired

No features installed in the electronic machines to cater to differently-abled persons


Rizwan Shehzad   October 29, 2021
Prime Minister Imran Khan inspecting the newly-developed Electronic Voting Machine (EVM), in Islamabad on Aug 8, 2021. PHOTO: Twitter/@ImranKhanPTI

ISLAMABAD:

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government has long made its intentions clear that it would make all efforts to hold the 2023 general elections through the Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) system.

However, it seems that the ruling party as well the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) completely failed to take into consideration the blind population of the country while manufacturing the machines as no special features have so far been installed to facilitate them.

In absolute terms, there were 3.2 million persons (2.38 per cent of the total population) with disabilities, including 264,762 blind people in the 1998 census.

The 2017 census, however, stated that Pakistan’s total population was 207.774 million and less than a million people – total 913,667, accounting for 0.48 per cent – of Pakistanis are persons with disabilities without giving a specific number for blind people.

The 2017 census figures, the then head of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics had said, could not be treated as being realistic as the PBS had decided to separately count persons with disabilities on the first day of the population census on the orders of the Supreme Court.

This means the number of differently-abled persons, including blind people, could increase in the upcoming census and would certainly make a difference in the polls. While referring to The Annual Status of Education Report, 2018, Dawn had reported in October 2019 that the percentage of Pakistanis with a disability was around 12 per cent or slightly more.

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“This comes to about 25m Pakistanis. There is a massive difference between 1m and 25m people,” it stated, adding “planning for a million people is very different from planning for 25m.”

The government’s admission came during the October 18 session of the National Assembly wherein Federal Minister for Science and Technology Shibli Faraz admitted that Braille lettering – a tactile writing system used by people who are visually impaired – is not available in EVM yet.

The science minister, however, maintained that the EVM prototype has been developed as per the specifications shared by ECP, adding “Braille lettering is not available among the requirements shared by ECP”.

The minister told the lower house of parliament that such requirements are not either available in the existing manual voting system. However, Faraz said, the requirement will be catered to in the future if demanded by ECP.

In a manual voting system, he said, “blind voters are assisted by polling personnel.” Faraz said that the EVM prototype has been developed according to the specifications & requirements shared by ECP on April 19, 2021.

The reply had come in response to the questions of MNA Naureen Farooq Ibrahim as she asked what special features such as Braille lettering, are provided in EVM in order to facilitate the “Persons with Disabilities” in the voting process.

In addition, she asked, whether there was any mechanism to train the staff and to guide the differently-abled persons; and if there is any facility of ramps and provision of tactile flooring for these persons in polling stations.

The response to the last two questions by the science minister was that the matter pertains to ECP.

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