When India got its independence in 1947, our leaders, who also wrote the constitution of India termed it as a sovereign, democratic republic where all citizens were equal, having equal claim on all the resources and services available for the citizens of the country. While according equal access to all facilities and services to all citizens of the country, the constitution did provide a special status to certain sections of the society like the schedule caste and the schedule tribes, who had been suppressed by the society since ages. But, such a status was not provided to persons with disabilities, who have also been victim of injustice since a very long time.
The first step towards including persons with disabilities in the society in India was taken when the parliament passed the persons with disabilities (equal opportunities, protection of rights and full participation) act, 1995, while looked into their needs. But despite the fact that the act fulfilled some of the demands of this section, some other demands like making the building accessible have remained more on paper despite the act clearly stating that all government buildings made after 1995, should have provisions to allow these people to move around freely in them.
One of the key areas of concern for persons with disabilities has been that whereas people with different kind of disabilities have varied needs when it comes to their accessibility, the word accessibility tends to get associated with the construction of ramps, which is only the need of a section of persons with disabilities, the wheelchair users. Now, imagine a person with hearing disabilities looking for a particular room in a large building, which may have numerous number of rooms. Whereas he may not need a ramp because he is capable of climbing the stairs like any other ordinary person but he may still fail to reach his destination because he cannot ask the direction from those who do not know sign language. This makes his needs differ from other sections in the same community.
Those working in the disability sector point out that there are two kinds of accessibility needs of persons with disabilities, which include the needs of an individual and the needs of the sector as a whole. Whereas the individual needs of a person with disabilities can be met by listing out the specific adjustments, which are required at the places frequently visited by the concerned individual with disability, the problem arises where adjustments have to be made keeping in mind the needs of persons with different kind of disabilities.
Experts tend to divide places to be made accessible into private and public places. They point out that even making a place like your home accessible for the needs of an individual with disabilities can be a daunting task if apart from your own first-hand experience as a person with disabilities, you also need the expertise of other people to modify the place. The professionals getting involved have to then examine the entire surroundings and suggest the ways to make life easier for these people.
But the real problem arises when you try to provide universal access to various kind of persons with disabilities with varied needs in buildings and places, which are used by public at large. Experiences in the past have shown though a few organizations like Samarthyam, which is working in the direction of ensuring universal access to all, have tried to create accessible surroundings for everyone, but again with their knowledge limited to making the building and transport facilities accessible mainly to those using the wheelchair, there are many who doubt whether this organization can really help each and every person, who is finding it difficult to visit different public places.
Prime Minister Mr Modi while launching the accessible India campaign had called for identification of government buildings, which can be made accessible for person with disabilities. But with no auditors available, who have knowledge both about disability and architecture, the work regarding making the government building accessible for different kinds of persons with disabilities has not even begun.
For persons with disabilities, accessibility is a huge issue and the problem faced by wheelchair users to visit a particular building or avail the facility of public transport is only a part of it. But it is not the only accessibility issue faced by them. With no brail and sign language interpreters available to help them, persons with hearing impairment and persons with visual impairment have a huge problem in getting any kind of information, which they may require in day to day life. Whereas the Prime minister is trying to encourage the entire country to access information through various mediums, again one wonders, what is he doing to make information accessible for people with these kind of disabilities.
Probably, the need of the hour is for the government is to form a committee of architects, media persons, computer experts, persons with different kind of disabilities and the government officials from the department of disabilities, who can coordinate and look into identifying various accessibility issues faced by these people and solve them so that they can move around like anyone else.
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