The ministry of road transport and highways recently issued an advisory on making public transport accessible for persons with disabilities. On the face of it, the advisory appears a welcome move. However, when looked at closely it raises some larger questions. For one, the advisory says that 25% of public and private transport should be made accessible.
However, the progressive Rights of Persons With Disabilities Act (RPWD) of 2016 says all public transport and buildings and facilities must be made accessible to persons with disabilities. This is broadly representative of the piecemeal approach that India has adopted towards disability. The rules of the Act are still to be notified in all Indian states.
At present, it has been notified in 20 states and union territories. The Centre has not met the deadline specified in the Act to set standards for accessibility for compliance by service providers. Meanwhile, accessible public facilities, including transport, schools and hospitals, remain the exception, not the norm. Disability, therefore, is rarely seen as a priority. Arguably this is because disability is still seen as something pertaining to a small section of the Indian population. However, ways of thinking about disability have evolved in the rest of the world.
It is now understood that it is not the person who is disabled rather their environment which is disabling. Lack of accessible environment keeps disabled persons homebound, losing out on opportunities and therefore vulnerable to being trapped in poverty. So much potential is lost by the government’s short-sightedness.
For instance, even if public buses were accessible, are there pavements and roads that a wheelchair user could navigate to reach the bus stand? While it is easy for those with no first-hand experience of disability to believe it is a niche concern, the fact remains that everyone, when old, when pregnant, when injured, when ill and weak, will benefit from an accessible environment. The sooner officials and politicians wrap their minds around this, the slightly more equal and inclusive India will be.