CHENNAI: Retired professor VS Sunder, a wheelchair user, was in for a rude shock when he went to the Karapakkam community hall to attend the Bus Rapid Transport System meeting recently. It was a long wait at the foot of the stairs for assistance. The meeting was on the first floor and there was no elevator. The only option for Sunder was to be lifted to reach the venue.
There are 120 government maintained community halls in the city and not one of them is accessible for persons with disabilities (PwD). With steep ramps, absence of handrails, elevators, ramps or inaccessible toilets, the challenges of PwD have been neglected by policymakers.
Steps to cross
“The meeting was later shifted to the ground floor, but still I had to be lifted to cross two steps. When I went to attend a meeting in a community hall in Mandaveli in the past, I went through a similar experience. Most of the wedding or community halls, managed by the government and private parties are inaccessible, and there are always a few steps in the entrance. Even if a building has an elevator, you have to pass the steps to get there,” said prof Sunder.
It is humiliating, more than anything else, says TMN Deepak, founder, December 3 Movement. “This is violating the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act. PwDs are considered as fringe elements and the need for accessibility is not percolating into the minds of policymakers, engineers of society at large,” he said. “Everybody is in a festive mood at community halls. When I want to reach out to the bride and groom at a wedding, I have to be lifted in front of everyone and that becomes a show for others. So to avoid humiliation, I plead my wife not to take me to any functions. What hurt most was I could not attend my best friend’s wedding because of this.”
A few community halls in the city have ramps, yet they are unusable due to unscientific construction or improper maintenance. According to the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, a ramp shall be finished with non-slip material to enter the building. The minimum width of the ramp shall be 1,800 mm with maximum gradient 1:12, length of the ramp shall not exceed 9 m having a double handrail. The minimum gap from the adjacent wall to the handrail shall be 50 mm.
“Kotturpuram community hall has all the facilities for PwD. But the washroom is narrow and a wheelchair does not fit into it. So, the purpose of the facility is lost. At CIT community hall, the steps are broken and the surface of few halls in the city are glossy, making it slippery for us. Also, most facilities are not dusted properly and are unhygienic. Concerning ramps and toilets, broken or glossy surfaces, missing or improperly maintained facilities, every community hall fails PwD,” said Smitha Sadasivan, coordinator, Disability Legislation Unit.
Concurring, Vijayashree Ramesh from Vidya Sagar, an NGO that works with children and adults with special needs, said that community halls built recently have ramps for the sake of it and are steep. “People got the basic concept of accessibility wrong, hence the facilities are built unscientifically. There are no facilities for the visual or hearing impaired too.” When contacted, an official from the Greater Chennai Corporation said they would look into it and make necessary changes wherever the facilities are already available, to begin with.