ALL FOR INCLUSION
Due to a lack of inclusivity – both in systemic designs and values – persons with disabilities have to fight for their rights every day. Their right to work is violated when employers deny them job opportunities and when the organisation's physical infrastructure inhibits their ability to work. In the absence of any means to contribute financially, they tend to feel like a burden on themselves and their families. Everyday tasks like buying vegetables for the home, going to the bank, consulting a doctor at a healthcare facility, travelling to visit a relative, etc becomes nearly impossible to perform independently when the necessary infrastructure to support them has not been developed.
Disability cuts across the lifecycle, gender, religion and socioeconomic status. There exist many case studies on how children with disability are forced to drop out of school due to a lack of accessible infrastructure. Another disabled individual was discriminated against at the airport as he was asked to walk for the security check despite his disability. A woman with a disability was harassed and molested as she sought assistance to cross the road. These are a few examples of everyday occurrences that people with disabilities have to face as they navigate through a system that was not designed keeping them in mind.
'Accessibility' refers to the ability to access information, facilities, resources, products, and services. For the 15% of the world's population that lives with some form of disability, accessibility becomes a major barrier limiting their participation in society. The national data for developmental outcomes like health, educational achievements, and employment also portray a grim reality. Although the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act (RPWD), 2016 aim to safeguard the interests of the disabled community and boost their access, the reality on the ground is very different.
Children with disabilities face several barriers to accessing education. Per a 2016 UNICEF report, "Inaccessible transportation to school, as well as inaccessible facilities in schools such as drinking water units, mid-day meal areas, and toilets, inappropriate classroom furniture, slippery flooring, and inadequate illumination and ventilation"are various barriers faced by children with disabilities. The report also discusses how this can be an even more critical issue in rural areas due to the lack of adequate water sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities, including menstrual hygiene management. This is another reason that contributes to high drop-out rates amongst girls with disabilities as they approach puberty. Schools lack faculty specializing in inclusive education who are sensitive to the varying needs of children with disabilities.
As the child grows, he/she faces exclusion in all spheres of life – social, political, economic etc. owing to their disability. Due to a lack of inclusivity – both in systemic designs and values – persons with disabilities have to fight for their rights every day. Their right to work is violated when employers deny them job opportunities and when the organisation's physical infrastructure inhibits their ability to work. In the absence of any means to contribute financially, they tend to feel like a burden on themselves and their families. Everyday tasks like buying vegetables for the home, going to the bank, consulting a doctor at a healthcare facility, travelling to visit a relative, etc. become nearly impossible to perform independently when the necessary infrastructure to support them has not been developed. The gravity of the situation worsens in the case of individuals with invisible disabilities, i.e., disabilities that are not immediately apparent and are typically neurological in nature like multiple sclerosis, haemophilia etc. Their accessibility needs are often ignored.
The RPWD Act 2016 mandates standards of accessibility to be laid down for physical environment,transportation, information and communications, including appropriate technologies and systems and other facilities and services provided to the public in urban and rural areas for persons with disabilities. However, 5 years since the Act has been passed, neither the public nor the private sectors have been able to comply with disabled-friendly design standards. The time limit for making existing infrastructure and premises accessible was 5 years which has not been followed. The time limit for all services to be made accessible was mentioned as two years from the date of notification of the rules which, too, is yet to be achieved. When the urban and metropolitan cities have been unable to make their products and services accessible, one can imagine how difficult it is for disabled people living in rural parts of the country to make it through a day.
The recently launched Global Report on Assistive Technology (GReAT) also highlights how adopting universal design and fostering the use of assistive products when needed can help improve functional ability thereby increasing accessibility. However, the report also notes that the most common barriers to accessing assistive products are high costs, low availability and lack of support. Unless such systemic barriers are worked upon, accessibility will continue to remain a distant dream for persons with disabilities.
It is the state's responsibility to ensure a barrier-free environment for all disabled people. For example –to ensure that all public places are mandatorily made accessible, building permission should be given only to those who follow the accessibility standards across the country including in the smallest district.Designing for accessibility and inclusiveness should not only be done solely for compliance reasons but also with the intent to accommodate the varying needs of persons with disabilities who as per the Constitution of India, also enjoy the same rights as all other citizens. Stringent actions against those who do not comply with the RPWD Act need to be taken. Persons with disabilities must unite and put forth their demands for an accessible society. They should share every inconvenience faced to let others know of the challenges faced.
If not now, then we will discriminate against another generation of disabled people.
The writer is the Executive Director, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP).
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