Urban planning lacks awareness about physical accessibility, says Nipun Malhotra
Thirty-year old Nipun Malhotra was born with a rare congenital disorder that bound him to a wheelchair. Now, an entrepreneur and a NITI Aayog advisor, Nipun has been crusading for accessibility to the disabled.pune Updated: Mar 15, 2018 14:47 IST
Thirty-year old Nipun Malhotra was born with a rare congenital disorder that bound him to a wheelchair. However, he refused to live the life of a wooden doll and, not only overcame his disability but, went on to help others to overcome theirs. His organisation, Nipman Foundation, has been working in the area of health and advocacy for persons with disabilities (PWDs). Now, an entrepreneur and a NITI Aayog advisor, Nipun has been crusading for accessibility to the disabled. In Pune for an event at a city college, he shared his insights on this while speaking to Ananya Barua on Wednesday.
Tell us about your journey into forming Nipman Foundation?
I was born with a disability, called arthrogryposis, where in the muscles of my arms and legs were not completely developed when I was born and they further did not develop through my life-time; they remained the same. However, I was blessed to be born to my parents who loved me for my abilities and not my disability. They treated me equally. But there are millions of other disabled Indians who do not really have the opportunities that I got owing to my upbringing. So, I thought about what would happen to other Nipuns like me, and that is what motivated me to start the Nipman Foundation.
What is the story behind your work with Zomato to introduce wheelchair-accessibility listing?
In March 2015, there was this restaurant in South Delhi which denied me entry saying that as a policy they do not let people with disabilities, inside. The restaurant, although, was completely physically accessible, it was the attitudinal accessibility which was the cause of this behaviour.That was an extremely humiliating experience and as a response, I tweeted about it. The tweet began to trend and became national news. Although much progressed after that, I realised that there needs to be an institutional change in the attitude to actually make a difference. Later that year, I had gone to the US for a trip and I noticed a popular application there which had a tab for wheelchair accessible restaurants. That triggered the idea to do something similar in India. So, I approached Zomato and together we worked out a wheelchair-accessible filter for restaurants.
In addition to restaurants, what do you feel is the status of accessibility in Pune and other major cities of India?
I haven’t been in Pune that long but what I have observed here is that, like most of the cities, the scene of accessibility is bad. To delve deeper into this subject, some years back, I had worked with a media house in Delhi, to find out how accessible public spaces are in the city. One of the most shocking observations of that experience was that, near Khan market, Delhi, there was this disabled-friendly washroom which had steps at the entrance, completely betraying its very purpose. Even the Odd-Even scheme in Delhi had no exemption for PWDs, thus forcing me to file a PIL. One of the reasons behind this is that public infrastructure is not being planned keeping in mind accessibility; not even in Smart City plans. Awareness is also an issue, as most engineers and architects are not aware of the universal guidelines to even think about accessibility in India.
What has been the gap in implementation of accessibility, despite the Accessible India campaign?
Unfortunately, the Accessible India campaign and the Smart City campaign are being run by two different ministries that hardly speak and coordinate with each other. Hence, accessibility takes a back seat during urban planning. When a commercial enterprise is given a completion certificate, they require an NOC. Why not have an accessibility NOC too? This way, it will help not only PWD population, but also senior citizens and others. Physical accessibility is temporary, and unfortunately, this is not prioritised as it should be by both, state and the central government.
Your message to all persons with disability?
Similar to what Stephen Hawking once said about disability, I believe that everyone in the world, eventually, has some problem. The only difference is that mine is visible. So my message to them is not to loose heart, because you are more than that and once you overcome your disability, sky is the limit for you.