Why Accessibility Remains A Roadblock For People With Disabilities

Accessibility remains a challenge for People with Disabilities (PwDs), as they find it difficult to navigate and make use of public and private spaces, including something as basic as a toilet

Written By: | Edited By: | November 28, 2023 हिन्दी में पढ़े

New Delhi: Nearly 26.8 million people, or 2.2 per cent of India’s population, live with some kind of physical or mental disability, according to the 2011 census. That is more than the entire population of Australia. But how much of urban India’s landscape is designed keeping in mind the needs of the disabled? To what extent have our transport networks, communication technology ecosystems, and infrastructure are accessible for the People with Disabilities (PwDs)? Besides, has there been any change in our attitudes and opinions that focus on their skills over their disabilities?

Why Accessibility Remains A Roadblock For People With Disabilities

Accessibility remains a challenge for People with Disabilities

NDTV spoke to Dr Satendra Singh, Professor, Department of Physiology at the University College of Medical Sciences in Delhi, who has suffered from Poliomyelitis since the age of nine. Dr Singh has been a vocal advocate for equity for People with Disabilities (PwDs), especially in healthcare. Dr Singh questioned whether the right to education and employment is not fundamental for PwDs as for the other citizens of India,

“We are called specially-abled, we are called differently-abled. We are also called those with divine abilities, super-human abilities. But my simple question to those non-disabled people is that is my right to get education and employment a special need? Is there a different way I can be empowered by all these barriers that I have not created? I only have physical impairment; it is the society that creates barriers through the non-provision of ramps.”

India’s first wheelchair model, Virali Modi, has also strongly advocated that the responsibility for creating an inclusive and safe society should be everyone’s, not just those who are disabled. Ms Modi was in the news last month, not because of the happy occasion of her marriage but because the wheelchair-bound disability rights activist had to be carried up two flights of stairs to the marriage registrar’s office as the building had no lift.

There are thousands of Virali Modis in India who face multiple challenges in their day-to-day lives due to lack of infrastructure.

Why Accessibility Remains A Roadblock For People With Disabilities

People with Disabilities struggle to access basic amenities due to poorly equipped infrastructure

Sharing her ordeal, Ms Modi said,

“If I want to access anything, there are no ramps available, and the places where ramps are created are in very shady conditions. I would say there is a lot of mis-planning. For most people, ‘accessibility’ is just a side thought, but that is my everyday life. I have to adjust to the world that is made for people without disabilities rather than the world adjusting for me.”

Apart from the multiple challenges that PwDs face daily, accessibility remains a major barrier. Narrating his experience, Dr Satendra Singh said,

“When you step out of your room or your house, what will greet you is inaccessibility all around, specifically for people with locomotive (physical) disabilities. That has been my experience, as I visit a lot of medical colleges, institutions, and hospitals across India. These are the first places that should be accessible to all, but unfortunately, that is not the case. Even essential services like post offices, banks, cricket stadiums, or cinema halls, accessibility is a huge barrier for PwDs.”

Dr Singh said that disability is not only limited to locomotives but a lot more, and accessibility is a challenge for all. He said,

“There are autistic people in the neurodivergent community; are we talking about their rights? Are we taking care of the sensory overload that is there?”

While there is no recent estimate of India’s population of disabled persons, a 2009 report by the World Bank states that there may be almost 80 million PwDs in India, some of which may be age or accident related or due to a medical condition.

Why Accessibility Remains A Roadblock For People With Disabilities

One in every 12 households in India has a person living with disability.

Talking about his experience as a disabled person, Nipun Malhotra, Disability Rights Activist and Founder, Nipman Foundation, a disability rights advocacy organisation, said,

“Whenever I held any important meetings in Delhi, I had to wait to reach home just to go to the toilet because I could not find any disabled-friendly toilet anywhere. Going to the toilet is something that people don’t even think about, but it was such an expedition for me.”

At birth, Mr Malhotra was diagnosed with a disability called Arthrogryposis, which meant that the muscles in his arms and legs were underdeveloped and would stay that way through his entire life. He also highlighted how society has come up with different terms to refer to People with Disabilities (PwDs), rather than coming up with ideas to make PwDs feel inclusive.

“Using terms like differently abled and specially abled shifts the focus away from the real meat-potato issues related to disability in society in that sense. We do not want more terms, we want more ramps, lifts, digital accessibility to be inclusive. We want more sign language interpreters; that is what we really want in that sense.”

The experiences shared by Mr Malhotra, Dr Satendra Singh, Virali Modi emphasise the need to keep the conversation going about greater accessibility and inclusivity for PwDs because the larger impact of this exclusion from physical spaces is exclusion from livelihoods and education and eventually affecting all of us as an economy and a society.

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