BENGALURU: Madhumitha Venkataraman, an HR professional struggles with accessibility, especially because her disability cannot be recognised instantly by an onlooker.
Born with an orthopaedic disability called Left Hemiparesis, she says, “For me to navigate places in any city is hard – sometimes, crossing the road, moving around can be a challenge.”
She says there is a lack of understanding that not all disabilities may be visible – there are disabilities which could be less visible or invisible, but need equal care and attention.
“The assumption is if you are not using an assistive device,you may not be disabled. I have an orthopaedic disability and have difficulty walking and cannot use my left hand well, but because it is not very visible, I need to keep stating the disability while seeking help. I was once travelling by public transport, and the driver
refused to help me because he believed I was not disabled. I was left to fend for myself through difficult infrastructure and that was a very tough experience.”
In extension, the existing Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995 covers only certain disabilities whereas the revised bill will include several other conditions such as cerebral palsy, locomotor disability and dwarfism.
“This, hopefully will bring in more holistic inclusion of the definition of disability,” she adds. She also currently works in the space of diversity and inclusion.
She works with several NGOs and corporate firms across spaces of gender, disability, LGBTQIA and generational diversity.
The Right with Disabilities Bill says the National Commission shall formulate regulations for the persons with disabilities laying down the standards of accessibility for the physical environment, transportation, information and communications, including appropriate technologies and systems, and other facilities and services provided to the public in urban and rural areas.
Madhumitha adds the number of persons who know and can use sign language in public spaces are very few and that again creates issues of accessibility for speech and hearing impaired persons.
“At the airport, you will come across wheelchair support, but sign language interpreters are hard to find. A few months ago, I was travelling with a friend who had partial speech and hearing impairment and there was no one to communicate with him at the airport. I had to do most of the communication on his behalf. Accessibility cannot be only for one type of disability, it needs to be inclusive to all.”
While the Persons With Disabilities Act, 1995 also says the appropriate governments and local authorities shall by notification formulate schemes for ensuring employment of persons with disabilities and that the appropriate governments and the local authorities shall, within the limits of their economic capacity and development, provide incentives to employers both in public and private sectors to ensure that at least five per cent. of their work force is composed of persons with disabilities, it does not seem to be properly implemented.
Madhumitha says, “There was a friend of mine who got a job from an organisation. He had educated the employer on his disability beforehand and had got the job on merit. He had resigned from his current job and a few days before joining, the offer was retracted stating the disability as the reason. Truly inclusive education is again very hard - majority of children with disability don’t have access to complete education, and that is a key differentiator to future growth and development.”