Disabled excluded from places of
I have numerous friends who are affected by polio or have suffered spinal injuries and so, are wheelchair bound. And I was astounded to note that few if any had access to places of worship, be it Temples or Churches.
Religion is undoubtedly a private issue but each of us have always found the need to turn to the house of god, not just during festivals but even for a few moments to commune with he who watches over us. And it is probably the greatest infringement of the Human Rights of People with Disabilities (PwDs) that they cannot visit a Temple or Church when ever they feel like it. I specifically mention Temples and Churches as they are more numerous and observable in a place like Bangalore.
Most of these places of worship either have a steep flight of steps leading up to them or they prevent people entering their premises with foot ware, or both. I have often questioned my friends on wheelchairs about this exclusion, and they seem to take it with the resignation that they are forced to adopt, for so many other places are also denied to them. With his own place of worship out of bounds to him, one of my non Christian friends prefers to accompany me to Church, as it is accessible and offers him a place and opportunity to pray.
This is of course is unfair, Exclusion, in this time and age speaks poorly of our Communities and our religious leaders, who have failed to keep up with the changing needs of their Communities.
Even thought, The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 is now 13 years old, Chapter 8 on Non-Discrimination speaks only about Government buildings and is conspicuously silent on community places like places of worship.
Undoubtedly, this is just one of the inadequacies of the Act which is sorely in need of amendment. But the question is are we, the Community, going to wait for an Amendment to The Persons With Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, before we welcome our brethren with disabilities to share in the community and personal experience of worship?
While we accept that traditions run deep, this exclusion and discrimination needs to be addressed. I think what is needed is a proactive approach, from all the stakeholders. PwDs need to approach the places of worship near them and sensitize the community and religious leaders to the needs of PwDs. The Disability Commissioners at the National and State level need to initiate a dialogue, with religious leaders, calling for sensitivity and offering suggestions for modification of temple and Church structures. As a group PwDs need to lobby for an amendment to The Persons With Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995.
Most of these changes be it ramps, railings, tactile tiles or prominent signage’s would hardly cost much and would also benefit others like the elderly. So hope 2009 breaks one more barrier for PwDs.