Today is when most groups fighting for rights of the differently-abled take to the streets to voice their opinion about equal opportunities, mainstreaming into vocational rehabilitation, employment service programmes and community involvement. And all these conversations are important, to bring about a change in the way the society perceives the disabled.
However, City Express spoke to a few people to see what the real world, practical, day to day changes one would like to see, as far as disabled citizens are concerned are.
For instance, Hema Krishnan, mother of Malvika Iyer, who lost both her hands in an accident, found herself running pillar to post to organise a writer every time her daughter had to take an examination. “It was beyond frustrating. We would have to appeal, send in an application to the university to appraise them of her condition so that she could be accorded a writer. And this process had to be repeated time and again. How odd, because when admitting her they obviously knew she is disabled,” she says. Inclusive educational institutions need to be more sensitive to the needs of their special students, she demands.
Taking this idea one step further is Javed Abidi, director, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People, who feels that most companies and public spaces feel proud of themselves just as long as they’ve built a ramp and provided a toilet. According to him, this is not enough and it points to gross negligence of people with disability. “When books are printed, they should be accessible to the visually challenged too. Not in the Braille form; not every book can be released in the Braille format as it would be too voluminous but in a digitised audio format. Likewise, programmes broadcast on TV too should have tickers or sub-titles to cater to the needs of the hearing-impaired as well.”
However, ramps and toilets, although one of the first issues to be taken care of across the country, are still to find prominence in most public spaces.
Malathi Holla, an international para athlete, who has over 300 medals to her credit, says, “The most common thing anyone like me would ask for is wheelchair accessibility. Despite the court order, most buildings refuse to put in ramps, fearing that they might deface their beautiful buildings. These people must be punished if any change needs to be seen. Also, toilets for disabled people is a must in all public spaces. One of my friends was at the Metro the other day and wanted to use the washroom but was unable to as it was under lock and key. When they finally opened it after much hullabaloo, the toilet didn’t work. There was no water. I also think it’s important that people with disability themselves must accept their disability and make an effort to talk to people and ask for help without feeling any shame. If we put two feet forward, the rest of the world will meet us half-way.”
Another star athlete of our country, Major DP Singh, who is a blade runner, feels that the government should focus on developing technologies that will make disabled people’s lives easier. “Most of these wheel chairs are too heavy and it makes it very difficult for people to move around. Why isn’t more research involved when it comes to developing lightweight wheelchairs, especially for children? Also, why aren’t the success stories of disabled people from around the country included in school textbooks? Surely, this would help children understand disability better and thus be more sensitive to the needs of disabled people that they meet in real life,” he says.
For Sunil Kumar Jain, a physically challenged ex-tax consultant, who now mentors young entrepreneurs and motivates disabled people across the state, accessibility to footpaths is a very important concern.
“Footpaths need to be made more accessible, and this stands not just for me but for all people. ”