Accessibility and India

Graphic by Eric Estibeiro

During my junior year of college, I had to pass through the settlement of workers and gardeners to reach the railway station. Every day without a break, I used to look at a familiar sight of a young boy through the curtains of my Auto Rickshaw. The boy, paler and more fragile than his age, had a leg deformity. He was accompanied by his father, who helped him walk without support aid. The boy hailed from an economically weak section of society and had no financial support to get walking aids like Canes, Crutches, Walkers, Wheelchairs or Mobility scooters. His father was the only support and his only walking aid.

Like the young boy, the latest statistics estimate that around 2.2 percent of the Indian population has physical or mental disabilities. This population is rarely seen in public spaces because they are highly marginalized. In India, disability has been treated as a taboo. A person in a wheelchair is looked down upon and subjected to social stigma. Their access to basic facilities such as sidewalks and transportation is limited, and due to the prevailing discrimination, they do not acquire the liberty to enjoy the rights which a non-disabled person gets without any struggle.

Prof. Mohamed Jemni, at TED2013, said, “The disability is not the problem. The accessibility is the problem.” disability is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure. An activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action. A participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in a life situation. accessibility is the design of products, devices, services, vehicles or environment, so as to be used by the people with disabilities. it ensures compatible direct and indirect access with assistive technology. There are so many accessibility issues that may arise, based on the disable person trying to access your product or service.

accessibility of built environment :-
Many government buildings do not have wheelchair ramps with hand-rails and specially designed toilets for disabled. People with visual or mental disabilities can’t access these facilities. step-free and leveled access to buildings, comfortable non-slippery ramps with hand-rails, wider doors, colour contrast, bright signages, fire & emergency system, audio visual information system, presence of security personnel, liftman, instruction boards with larger font, drinking water fountains, sufficient illumination etc. are require for better accessibility in a building.

Accessibility of transportation system :-
disabled people suffer most in transportation. Public transport for disabled is either not accessible or not enough or irregular in nature. The roads are not properly maintained which creates difficulty for cane and wheelchair users. To make the transportation system disabled friendly, we need more low-floor buses with foldable ramps. Bus stops should have ramps and audio-visual information systems for easy understanding to disabled persons. railway stations must have lifts and escalators. a barrier or sounding object should be provided at change in levels and cutouts. proper headroom is required for walkways, corridors and aisles. guiding braille indicators at railways & airports, braille maps and informative booklets at enquiry counters, signboards with bigger fonts, bright lighting, reserve seats for disabled, discount in ticket rates are some means for increased accessibility.

information & communication technology (ict) accessibility :-
Living in the 21st century, the disabled in India still lack the accessibility to information and technology. The barrier between disabled and ICT adversely affects their participation in all aspects of social life.

To overcome these issues and create a better living for disabled, the government of India has implemented certain schemes and regulations. The right of persons with disability act 2016, identifies 21 types of disabilities. The act has increased the quantum of reservation for people suffering with disabilities from 3% to 4% in government jobs and from 3% to 5% in higher education institutions. Disabled students have the right of free education in government funded institutions. Stress has been given to ensure accessibility in public buildings in stipulated time frame, alongwith accessible india campaign. The government has taken up measures to use of ict in the field of e-learning and make education accessible for everyone. This has increased the capabilities and independence of a disabled person.
itc opens up various fields for disabled assistance e-learning, reading digital and audio libraries, internet and web for persons with special needs, winning communication, empowerment of a disabled person through social groups & network.

Accessible india campaign:-
Its aim is to create an accessible environment for people with disabilities. a nationwide campaign for achieving universal accessibility, that will enable persons with disabilities to get access to equal opportunity and live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, in an inclusive society. The campaign targets at enhancing the accessibility of the built environment, transportation system and information & communication system. But these campaigns require the backing from the privileged and abled people of India. Only then, the aim of integration of disabled with the society would be fulfilled.

It has been almost 3 years since I last saw the young boy. It has been almost 3 years of wondering if the boy got any assistance and funds that he needed to lead a comfortable life. But with the efforts of the center and awareness of the general public, there is still hope. Every night when I rest my head on the soft mattress, I like to believe that the young boy with his turtle speed has surpassed all the obstacles that came his way. I like to believe that the young boy along with his father has still won the race of life.

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