Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together – Vincent Van Gogh

Posts tagged ‘Access’

Disabled excluded from places of worship

Disabled excluded from places of

worship

Inaccessable_temple_steps

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.

temple_stepsUndoubtedly, 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.

temple_steps_againMost 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.

Accessibility

Making the Kala Madhyam Arts Mela

‘Accessible’

Naz, Myself and Nagaraj

Naz, Myself and Nagaraj

While the Kala Madhyam Arts Mela was undoubtedly a fantastic initiative, we who were there along with Nagaraj, who is wheelchair bound, could not help but notice that accessibility for people with disabilities way grossly overlooked. With steps leading to a major part of the stalls, including the little amphitheater that held the cultural events, Nagaraj, could only access the lower stalls, which surrounded the Chitra Kala Parishad building.

Those with speech and hearing impairment would probably have benefited if there were little information boards, which mentioned the State from where the artisans came and the brochures if prominently displayed would have elaborated for further details. Of course the visually impaired would have been in need of an escort considering the venue was really crowded and a Braille brochure would have worked wonders for them.

Steps leading to the amphitheater

Steps leading to the amphitheater

The Amphitheater

The Amphitheater

Many of these issues, such as ramps for wheelchair users and information boards for the hearing impaired would have benefited not just people with disabilities but others like senior citizens, and saved people like me from repeating the same questions again and again. All these things could have been addressed with a little bit of management and better organization and so it’s surprisingly, very do-able. I’m sure organizations like Mobility India, the Association of People with Disability, Action Aid, Mithra Jyothi, and the 40 odd organizations in Bangalore working on disability would have been glad to advise and assist on this front.

In a scenario where people with disabilities are trying to mainstream their concerns into the larger Peoples Movements and where they are aggressively lobbing with the Government for Rights, being left out of an initiative organized by a fellow non-governmental organization, which is expected to be sensitive, is in bad taste.

On the other hand, being part of the disability movement, the lack of ‘accessibility’ at the Kala Madhyam Arts Mela only goes to highlight the fact that much work still needs to be done, and it is only when civil society organizations and non-governmental organization are sensitized to the issues of disability that the Disability Sector will get the required support and broad base itself.

Pictures by Jasmine Nongrum

They also have a Right

IN PERSPECTIVE

The Government should step in to provide access for disabled people in public places.

Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) comprise 7-10 per cent of the population of India. If we include senior citizens, pregnant women and those with temporary disability like a broken leg, you will be astounded to know the figure goes up to a whopping 25 per cent. Yet how often do we see these people out of their homes in public places? The answer is precisely lack of accessibility, which confines them to their homes and its immediate environs, and makes them dependent on assistance every time they decide to step out.

Be it the footpath, a bus stop, the post office, the bank, an ATM, the railway station, the theater, public toilets or a supermarket, how many of these places have you seen accessible to a person with a locomotor problem, either on a wheel chair or on elbow crutches, or to a person with a speech and hearing impairment or visual impairment.

Not surprisingly, when most people think of accessibility for PWD’s, they think of ramps, most of which are not built to the stipulated gradient. How many bus stops, railway stations and public buildings and facilities have you seen with visual signs prominently displaced or with tactile tiles and Braille to facilitate the movement of the visually impaired? Yet, the fact that public places are hostile in the way they are designed, constructed and maintained does not stop most PWDs from venturing out and trying to live their lives.

The Act

Section 44, in Chapter 8 on Non-Discrimination in The Persons With Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 states that the transport sector shall, within the limits of their economic capacity and the development for the benefit of PWDs, take special measure to adapt rail compartments, buses, vessels and aircrafts to facilitate easy access, adapt toilets to allow wheelchair users to use them conveniently. They should install auditory signals at red lights on roads for the benefit of persons with a visual handicap, provide curb cuts and slopes to pavements for the easy access of wheelchair users, engrave the surface of the zebra crossing and railway platforms for person with a visual impairment, devise appropriate symbols of disability and provide warning signals at appropriate places.
The Act also calls upon the Government and the local authorities to provide ramps, Braille symbols and auditory signals in elevators of public buildings, hospitals, primary health centres and other medical care and rehabilitation institutions. But, tragically over a decade later, we are nowhere close to a more accessible public space.

NGOs working on disability like Kilikili, ActionAid, CBR Forum and others have been very much involved in make public places accessible. However the work has been mainly concentrated to Bangalore, even while the rest of Karnataka, urban and rural lie neglected.

PWDs also feel that the blatant manner, in which the Act has not been implemented depends on crass discrimination. Today they are demanding that architects, especially the government architects, the prime initiators of design of public spaces be made aware on constructing accessible buildings and public spaces.

They should act

The State Disability Commissioner must stop relying on NGOs and along with the department of social welfare begin conducing access audits in a planned and phased manner of all public buildings and ensure they are accessible in a time frame. When it comes to travel most PWDs are forced to rely on private transport, which is three times the cost of public transport.

PWDs are demanding that the Dept of Transport make at least 5 per cent of all buses and taxies wheelchair friendly in the next five years. While the trains now have a special compartment for PWDs most railway stations are still not accessible for all the types of disabilities, this too must be done with immediate effect considering it is a decade over due.

This article was published in the Bangalore edition of Deccan Herald on 20th July 2007

http://www.deccanherald.com/Content/Jul202007/editpage2007071913893.asp

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: