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.
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