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

Posts tagged ‘Accessibility’

Disabled excluded from places of worship

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.

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.


Making the Kala Madhyam Arts Mela


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

Making the net accessible for people with disabilities

Making the net accessible for people with disabilities

The government, be it thought the department of social justice, the national disability commissioner or the state disability commissions need to urge government departments and the National Informatics Centre (NIC) to first make their sites disabled friendly and then spread the message to the private sector more authoritatively.

The internet is undoubtedly a hoard of information so complex and infinite in its scope that those with access to it can teach themselves anything, from cooking, to all about brain surgery. And in a world where more and more information is being put into the public domain it is a relevant question to ask, are all people, especially those with disabilities, equally benefiting from the internet?

This question is especially relevant for those who are visually impaired, have low vision, hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, cerebral palsy, limited movement, and others. Their access to schools, universities and other public places of learning are limited, precisely because of their special learning needs and the internet promises to be the one stop solution to their need for information and knowledge, if only the information is ‘accessible’.

With the trend towards pictures, graphics, sound and flash, the information on the internet is largely inaccessible, additionally; software professionals are yet to get sensitive to the varying needs of nearly seven per cent of the population with disability, and introduce technological and attitudinal changes accordingly.

Currently, countries like the US have a legislation that require websites to meet accessibility standards like Section 508 which provides that a text equivalent be given for every non-text element. In the UK too, government websites are required to be in compliance with Publicly Available Specification (PAS) 78, which outlines good practices for those commissioning websites. Canada and Australia have similar policies and so do a few other countries.

India ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in 2007. This convention stipulates that all electronic communication like websites, radio and television should be made accessible to all; including persons with disabilities (PwDs) and that private entities be encouraged to also do so. However, the last year has seen little headway in this direction.
According to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) the four principles that are the foundation for making a website accessible for PwDs are perception, operable, understandable, and robustness. And to achieve this, it is essential that several different components of web development work together, these components include: the web page content, web application, the web browsers, media players and other ‘user agents’, assistive technology like the screen readers, alternative keyboards and scanning software, authoring tools and evaluation tools. All these are to be made friendly, so that anybody with a disability can successfully read a web page.

In a country like India the internet is beginning to make its presence felt even in remote villages, it is thus imperative that we begin seriously thinking of how to make the internet “accessible to all”.

The government, be it thought the department of social justice, the national disability commissioner or the state disability commissions need to urge government departments and the National Informatics Centre (NIC) to first make their sites disabled friendly and then spread the message to the private sector more authoritatively.


[Interestingly, Bangalore has an initiative on making websites e-accessible and if you would like to volunteer some time, please get in touch with The Centre for Internet and Society, No. D2, 3rd Floor, Sheriff Chambers, 14, Cunningham Road, Bangalore, Phone: (+91)-080-4092-6283‎]

(The writer is a member of DisAbilityFirst, an advocacy group working on issues of disability)

This article was published in the Bangalore Edition of the Deccan Herald on 20th November 2008 and can be accessed from the following link

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