Life is not easy for a disabled person in a busy city, more so if they wish to travel on their own. They face road blocks everywhere. Manju K Utamchandani still cannot forget the day when she was told by a passerby to stay home and not travel without assistance when she inquired about parking area for the handicapped.
“I can drive my car and move on my own but still people like me face disregard and discrimination,” said Manju, project coordinator of Society for Education of Crippled (SEC).
“How difficult would it be for a normal person to cross a road or go for a movie? But we have to think twice,” said 21-year-old painter, Sunil Darekar, who is wheelchair-bound due to polio. “Roads or railway stations do not have wheelchair ramps and if some places have, they are not at a proper gradient.”
Education has made people like Sunil independent, but they feel demoralised when they cannot climb stairs in market, cross roads or access public transportation without help.
“We do not want sympathy. Accessibility to public places is what we demand. It is no charity that government will provide; it is our right,” said students unanimously at Xavier’s Resource Centre for Visually Challenged.
There is a long way to go to facilitate independent traveling for People With Disability (PWDs). “We have a coach dedicated to us but it becomes very difficult to board it during peak hours as it is used by the general public,” said Santosh Wagh, who is partially blind.
Educational institutions, parks, theaters, etc. are inaccessible too. The Disability Act, 1995 mandates barrier-free access to all public places and transportation systems. However, the approach is more charity-based rather than ‘right-based’.
A research study, ‘White Paper on Achieving Infrastructural Accessibility in India & Five-year Action Plan’, done by Shivani Gupta (co-founder, AccessAbility, an access consulting agency) states that, out of the 82% architects who were aware of The Disability Act, 1995, only 42% knew its relevance in their sphere of work.
One mechanism suggested by Sam Taraporeval, director, XRCVC, is announcement system in buses and at bus stops. Manoj Varade, assistant PRO, BEST, said: “We have started this system from Wadala depot, bus no. 69, 353 do have this announcement system.” He was quick to add “the project is big and will take time for them to fully install the system in all the buses.” The law on employment for PWDs that provides for 3% reservation in “identified posts” in the government also remains ineffective.