Recently, the Madras High Court issued two orders related to the accessibility of public facilities for persons with disabilities. In the first, it pulled up the state for purchasing buses that are inaccessible to disabled persons despite repeated HC orders mandating that all the buses be accessible. In the second order, it stressed that all public buildings must be made accessible to disabled persons and must have disabled-friendly toilets. That the court has had to repeatedly order the state to do what it is already bound to do by the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act of 2016 is a damning indictment of Tamil Nadu’s treatment of disabled persons. Of course, TN is hardly alone in this. From the Union government’s websites to the very court buildings from which such orders are made, few, if any, of India’s facilities are accessible to persons living with disabilities.
The pandemic, which has affected everyone over the past two years, has further marginalised persons with disabilities, many of whom are already caught in a vicious loop of illiteracy and poverty, the direct results of an inaccessible environment. The irony is that most people will experience disability in some form or the other at some stage of our lives and most of us will experience the disabilities brought on by old age. Yet, be it bollards on sidewalks that make them inaccessible to wheelchair users or jails refusing a person with Parkinson’s a sipper, the needs of the disabled are too often an afterthought.
An accessible environment must not be seen as a sop or concession made to a proportion of our population but as a right that allows a person to live a full life. It is high time that planners and policymakers begin to centre the experiences of those pushed to the margins and build infrastructure that incorporates their needs. Such infrastructure will benefit and provide a better quality of life to all people.