Keystone Human Services (KHS) is a non-profit organization that is a part of a global movement to provide support and expertise to people with disabilities.
Keystone Human Services A Place
Aratrik is a nineteen plus—almost twenty—young man. If you took a peek at his official records, including his government disability certificate, it would tell the story of a young man with significant and even so-called ‘catastrophic’ disability. Yet meet this man, and you quickly see he is much more than a label. In fact, his parents and those around him see him as a man full of ideas, comprehension, and opinion. He feels deeply and strongly about the world around him. As he approached the age of majority, his parents realized that his franchisement was an important part of entering the world and exercising his right to have a voice in the leadership of his country, afforded to those of us lucky enough to live in the world’s biggest democracy. Indeed, the right to vote is an important passage in our journey to full citizenship.
Aratrik entered the valued role of voter this past year, after a concerted effort to help support him in undertaking some rich learning about his role as a citizen, including learning about candidates and making his own decisions.
His mom and dad, noted disability activists Bratati and Malay, had helped him make many decisions and choices over the years, and he was well able to express his preferences. They assisted and prepared Aratrik by exposing him to the many YouTube instructional videos for voters and candidate guides.
Bratati and Malay expressed that when they do not fully understand their son, it is their disability, not his, so they listened carefully and more deeply. This was their method in preparing young Aratrik to vote, and when the day came, he was ready. He had been making choices since a young child, and his parents considered this part of his preparation for life—indeed, the day when he entered the valued citizenship role of voter, it was the culmination of years of preparation for the responsibilities of adulthood.
In the days before the election, cardboard replicas of the Electronic Voting Machines were created (EVMs) so Aratrik would need minimal support and know what to expect. They focused on following the newspaper accounts of candidates, and watched carefully for his reactions and decision. Aratrik choose his favorite symbol and practiced at least ten times in the last three days and chose a single symbol in the true election without any comment or help from any of those supporting him. He proved he has his own opinion; he should be given the opportunity to express it.
When the day came, the family traveled to the polling place together, ready and well prepared, and full of anticipation. They appreciated all the “bending over backwards” by election officials in making sure Aratrik and other people with disability get to exercise their right to vote. This included home visits for registration, accommodations for people in line at the voting places so long lines, frustrating and hard to tolerate for some with autism and other developmental disability, were avoided. People with disability, or at least Aratrik, were welcomed fully to take their place at the table of citizenship.
His mom, Bratati, was with him, but went alone in the voting enclosure, she was touching him at a distance from behind. He completed the whole process just like every other normal person.
This day didn’t come just by chance. It is the result of the combined efforts of many people, and it shows that, yes, legal accommodation are needed and valued. But such accommodations must be accompanied by real people, such as those election commission staff who reached out and made the accommodation work in the way they Aratrik and his family would FEEL the welcome! As well, people like Bratati and Malay who made sure their son was well-prepared.
Most importantly, Aratrik crossing the threshold into citizenship was the culmination of the efforts people who did not believe that his disability defined him and excluded him from regular life and a place at the table. A victory for Aramik, his family and his supporters in creating an India where everyone has a say.