According to the 2011 Census, 2.1% of the population in India has a disability. They have to battle challenges every day, and unfortunately, their difficulty does not come from their disability, but society, how other people treat them, how they experience a lack of acceptance and inclusion, how the world around them is built for able-bodied people, and very conveniently forgets a large section of society. Such a lack of infrastructure in institutions may keep people from getting equal access to good quality education and employment, which hinders their way to sustain themselves.
WHAT IS THE PRESENT SCENARIO?
IN GOVERNMENT PLACES
The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 complies that public buildings should ensure accessibility standards for disabled people, but it is unfortunate to see, even after five years of such an act, the empathy towards the community and willingness to consider the need for change in infrastructure is a rare sight. Basic infrastructural modifications as simple as building a ramp are often looked over. Even if a few offices do contain ramps, most of them are either non-functional or are encroached by 2-wheelers for parking.
Maarikannan, the Secretary of Trichy District Differently-abled Welfare Association, told the Times of India in an interview that, “Even toilets in Government offices have ignored the needs of wheelchair users & locomotive disabled people. We feel bad to rely on strangers to access the Government offices.”
IN EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS
45% of differently-abled people are illiterate, and one of the biggest reasons is due to inaccessibility in transport and school premises and lack of trained teachers to aid such students. Study material and learning tools too are not available in accessible formats, and the rigid evaluation system with lack of additional support just makes matters worse, leading to an increase in drop-outs among disabled people.
Assistive technology includes assistance and rehabilitative devices which help people with disabilities by increasing their functional capabilities. But in India, most infrastructure is not disabled-friendly, especially when it comes to the technological aspects of it.
WHAT IS THE GOVERNMENT DOING?
- A pan-India campaign, Accessible India Campaign (Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan), was launched in 2015 to serve the differently-abled community of the country and achieve universal accessibility for PwDs (People With Disabilities).
- Under the Scheme for Implementation of Persons with Disabilities Act (SIDPA) 1995, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment also provides grants-in-aid for making a barrier-free environment in Government buildings.
- In 2021, the Cultural Ministry proposed a draft of ‘general accessibility standards’ and gave some recommendations for a “harmonized and barrier-free environment for persons with disabilities (PwDs) and elderly visitors coming to protected sites, monuments, libraries, and museums.”
- Educational bodies like the AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education) mandate all institutions under its supervision to have barrier-free infrastructure. Even the University Grant Commission issues its Universities various instructions from time to time to comply with the Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan and also gives building grants to colleges to build ramps, rails, special toilets, etc.
- The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, mandates that every school should have barrier-free access.
- The Centrally sponsored Scheme of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) provides for barrier-free access in elementary schools for the benefit of children with special needs (CWSN).
- MHRD is also planning to implement an Inclusive Education for Disabled at Secondary Stage (IEDSS) scheme that will provide students with assistance of approximately 3,000 rupees per annum besides providing special teachers, an equipped resource room, sensitization of parents, administration staff, and educationists.
WHAT ARE PRIVATE COMPANIES DOING?
It is a good thing to see that the concern for having disabled-friendly infrastructure is not only limited to the Government, but many private companies are doing their best to create an environment of equality and include people with disabilities at the workplace by providing infrastructure that is accessible to them. Mentioned below are some of the major companies who are putting in some efforts:
- Accenture India: The company set up its ‘India Accessibility Council’ in 2014 to ensure an ideal workplace for people with disabilities, and with that idea in mind, the office was made wheelchair-friendly, videos had subtitles, sign language interpreters were available, braille stickers were put in the lifts and changing video signs with high contrast colors were implemented.
- Candor TechSpace, managed by Brookfield Properties: The office spaces of the company have wheelchair parking areas, ramps, and specially built washrooms. The campuses have segregated pedestrian walkways with tactile pavers to aid navigation and curb ramps at crossings to help negotiate level differences.
- MakeMyTrip: They are very active in hiring differently-abled employees and also invest significantly in their development. They have partnered with NGOs to train people with disabilities and offer transportation to work in addition to having disabled-friendly infrastructure.
- L’Oreal India: The company’s offices are disabled-friendly and are even working on recommendations to fix automated doors, highly-contrasted signs, slope elevations, etc. The company also aims to keep people with disabilities as 2% of their workforce.
- Capgemini India: The company provides accessible infrastructure, IT systems, and reasonable adjustments for persons with disabilities. Capgemini India’s Disability Inclusion Program aims to provide an equal environment to persons with disabilities at the workplace to increase their chances of employment and career growth.
The burden of overcoming hurdles to get equal opportunities should not rest upon the person suffering from it. Accessibility should mean uninterrupted mobility to all people so that they can reach their full potential. It is the fundamental right of each and every citizen to be treated equally, and when infrastructural dearth results in denying people certain opportunities, it is a gross violation of rights.
Even though the Government is introducing measures to make infrastructure more accessible, still a lot needs to be done, particularly in the areas of providing accessible washrooms, transportation systems, specific education material, and trained staff for people with disabilities. Special attention needs to be given to rural areas which still lack basic infrastructural changes.
Furthermore, despite so many bills and laws being passed, there are no standards for infrastructural accessibility which leads to no redressal for any complaints made by disabled people. Even a law to provide such measures and provide equal access to people with disabilities has not been developed.
A survey revealed that only 11% of architects were aware of the designs and information used for accessibility designs for the disabled. If proper education and training were given and if stricter laws were implemented, architects and builders would have been more careful in incorporating disabled-friendly infrastructure.
Written by: Aashna