With just 3% of India’s buildings accessible, our disabled are at a huge disadvantage
Celebrated British physicist Stephen Hawking, who died recently, once said: “People with disabilities are vulnerable because of the many barriers they face: attitudinal, physical, and financial. Addressing these barriers is within our reach.....But most important, addressing these barriers will unlock the potential of so many people with so much to contribute to the world.” Hawking’s call for action is something which will fall by the wayside here given the indifference created by red tape and government agencies. Expressing displeasure over the sluggishness with which the Delhi government was acting with respect to carrying out audits of the disabled friendliness of buildings, parks, schools and other public places, a bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C. Hari Shankar said on Wednesday: “We don’t want lip service from government agencies... we want action.”
But Delhi isn’t the only offender when it comes to inaction on matters that affect the lives of 26.8 million physically challenged people in the country. One of the recommendations of the Disabilities Bill, passed in Parliament in 2016, was setting a deadline for the creation of barrier-free access to buildings and transport systems. As part of the Accessible India Campaign, the flagship national programme to make public buildings and transport less hostile for the physically challenged, 50% of all of these were to be made fully disabled friendly by July 2018. But more than two years after the launch of the campaign, only 3% of buildings have become accessible, according to the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD). At the launch of the campaign, 1,707 buildings were identified to be made accessible. Across 57 Indian cities, auditors gave pointers to the State on features needed to make buildings accessible. After the audits, state governments sent proposals to the DEPwD which released funds to retrofit these buildings. According to section 44 of the Persons with Disabilities Act, the norms for retrofitting included the creation of ramps in public buildings, modification of toilets for wheelchair users and installation of Braille symbols in elevators. But progress has been slow.
It isn’t just buildings that create barriers for the disabled. The Centre’s target of making at least 25% of public transport disabled-friendly has also not been met. Unlike the Metro rail, which has accessibility features built in, our other trains are infamously inaccessible. Census 2011 data reveals that of the 13.4 million people with disabilities in India in the employable age group of 15-59 years, 9.9 million were non-workers or marginal workers. Not only are we forcing millions of India’s unemployed with disabilities to be dependent on social security or their families and caregivers, the hostile environment and public transport also robs them of the dignity of carrying out tasks that everybody else takes for granted. For a day, try boarding a train, going to school , watching a movie, operating an ATM, or getting to a government building in a wheelchair. The exercise may help you realise why access means so much to the disabled.