NOT CHARITY ANYMORE
Chennai: The Corporation has started working towards making the city environment more accessible for the disabled. Three hundred bus routes have been identified so far for transforming them into accessible pavements of international standards, by associating with Disability Rights Alliance. Plans have also reportedly started to construct accessible public toilets.
As part of creating awareness among the public, Solidarity Booths for disabled people were organized in 15 corporation zones on December 3 – the International day for disabled people – by Vidya Sagar, a Chennai based NGO in collaboration with the corporation.
Booths were set up at all the zonal offices where staff and students from Vidya Sagar spread the word. About 12,000 awareness materials were printed and distributed. A pledge was also taken at each solidarity booth all of which witnessed much public participation.
“The zonal officer showed great interest in the programme making our job much easier,” said Lakshmi Subrahmanian from the communication department of Vidya Sagar who coordinated the booth at Thondiarpett zonal office 4. “Apart from the staff at the office there were many other people also. We briefed them about what should be provided for the disabled to access everything like normal people. All those who gathered expressed interest in knowing more. About 400 pamphlets were circulated and we got more than 100 signatures for the pledge,” she exclaimed gleaming with excitement.
“We got a lot of support from the Chennai Corporation regional joint commissioner, Mr. Ananda Kumar IAS,” said Smitha S, assistant coordinator at the disability legislation of Vidya Sagar, referring to the role of corporation in the programme. “He was very cooperative and took all initiatives for this event. During our last meeting he had also highlighted the importance in sensitizing his own engineers so as to make an accessible environment for the disabled and suggested holding such sessions,” she added.
India accounts for 1/6th of the total disabled population of the world having about 100 million disabled persons living here. Although ‘The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill’ that came into action in 2011 states about the various rights of disabled people, most of them remain on papers. Discrimination prevails to a very large extent even today making the life a lot more difficult for them.
“Last year the candidacy of a woman who contested in Panchayat elections was cancelled as she had hearing impairment,” pointed out Smitha. This is against the right to political participation for the disabled, guaranteed by the constitution. But the lack of awareness among the victims as well as among the public allows such discriminatory practices to continue.
The United Nations has been holding December 3 as the World Disability Day since 1992 in order to promote understanding of disability issues and to mobilize support from the public. India was the seventh country to ratify the United Nations Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disability which advocated accessible environment and reasonable accommodation for disabled people.
Reasonable accommodation doesn’t indicate a general set of facilities for the disabled. It should be specific to the kind of disability of each person. Getting it implemented is not easy.
“I am a person with multiple sclerosis and would get tired very easily. A bed is essential for me at my work place which is not an idea that would go down well with the authorities, because as far as they are concerned I come here to work, not to rest,” points out Smitha. This much prevalent attitude either denies reasonable accommodation or the job itself to the disabled person.
The discrimination faced by this section is not just confined to jobs or political representation, but is an everyday phenomenon for them. The entire society itself appears to be constructed in a way that leaves out the disabled. Buildings, government or legal documents, roads, pavements, ATMs, toilets, education, designs, communication systems, websites – the list of the areas where accessibility is denied to them is endless. The plans for accessible pavements and toilets come as an endorsement of their right to have access to these, an idea which they tried to highlight through the solidarity booths.
“When we met last time the commissioner rightfully pointed out that accessibility is no more a charity, it is a human right,” says Smitha. “We are equally capable of doing anything,” she adds with confidence. These small steps could be the path to realization of the dreams of a sidelined section, regarding their long neglected rights