Enable the Challenged

Making infrastructure universally accessible is still largely perceived as an act of charity and not a realisation of the right of persons with disabilities

Published: 14th December 2013 12:02 PM  |   Last Updated: 14th December 2013 12:02 PM   |  A+A-

Safe mobility for a challenged person in the urban spaces is emerging as a key challenge. Though every citizen has right for safe mobility, those with disabilites bear the brunt as most of the buildings in the city do not uniformly provide them access.

In India, amidst the daily struggle of basic needs, accessibility and inclusion to recreational spaces and entertainment find the least priority.  Thousands of physically-challenged people in the city are facing all sorts of difficulties in moving around safely on roads, public places, offices  and while using the public transport system. Access to public places goes beyond physical barriers. Access and inclusion are two sides of the same coin.

Moving about in the physical world is something we may take for granted but there are many physical barriers along with other kinds of difficulties for the disabled people like  signs, loudspeaker announcements, traffic signals and various other ways that give  essential information and may be requird by a disabled person.

The most ordinary of aspirations - to enter school, work in the fields, go out to worship, watch a movie in theatre,  to partake in the social functions, hang out with friends and family at a restaurant for a favourite meal -  the prosaic ingredients of a person’s work in a day  are denied to them. These people continue to be discriminated against, with ramps being a rarity in most public buildings. Even infrastructure that is directly pertinent to persons with disabilities, such as the public offices, are largely inaccessible.

Making infrastructure universally accessible is still perceived as an act of charity and not a realisation of the right of persons with disabilities. Not only persons with disability require such friendly buildings, but we have a major chunk of populace which requires it like the senior citizens, pregnant mothers, parents with small children among others.

Government needs to ensure that all public spaces such as parks, bus terminals, railway stations, hospitals, educational institutions and government offices are made barrier-free to create a more inclusive society not only for the physically challenged, but for many others.

Sneha Mishra , secretary of  Aaina said that that the parks, restaurants and cinema theatres come under the jurisdiction of Central Public Works Department under Ministry of Urban Affairs and Employment. India is yet to frame guidelines for non-ambulant (chair bound), semi-ambulant (lower limb impairments), visual, and  hearing disabled persons. All these public infrastructures in Bhubaneswar need a nod from BDA which has a specific guideline on accessibility which explicitly narrates the accessibility features.

In Bhubaneswar, the parks that are managed by the BDA are user friendly though have not been built by taking the requirements of persons with special needs into consideration.  Biju Patnaik Park, the IG Park and Ekamara kanan are kind of accessible for wheelchair users and white cane users. However, the stairs need to be remodeled with a ramp to make them more accessible. It is mandatory for all the star hotels in the capital city to follow the guidelines. However, it is not the case everywhere, hence Government should verify  whether these places are user friendly before they are issued the star certificates.

The newly constructed INOX cinema hall is a perfect example of accessibility and with a little help anybody can reach the seat to watch a movie without any other barrier.

A circular was issued by the Ministry of Tourism in 2010 during the Commonwealth games to provide universal access features in the tourism sites.

The Archaeological Survey of India had issued another circular in 2005 to provide accessibility in the ticketed monuments at world heritage sites. Access audits are tools to provide for accessible infrastructure in the tourist sites and hotels by retro fittings with non negotiable access elements.

“The various tourism   destinations remain completely accessible and the hospitality sector has never taken people with reduced mobility seriously. It is estimated that 15 per cent of population of India that is 186 million constitutes challenged persons and by  2020 it will be 30 per cent of the population. Hence the rest of the society will also need accessible infrastructure, services and facilities throughout their life span. It is also mandated by the Ministry of Tourism to provide for accessible user friendly hospitality transport and hotel accommodation,” said Anjlee Agarwal, executive director, Samarthyam and an access consultant.

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