No Country for Wheelchairs

Written by October 11, 2012 8:19 am 23 comments

Quick: What does the entrance to your apartment building look like? Your office? The shop where you bought your last pair of jeans? The last coffee shop you hung out at? If you can’t remember, or had to think hard to picture it, consider yourself privileged. Because to Indians with disabilities, these are matters of enormous consequence. Chances are, they will know exactly what these places looked like. And that everything in this article will be old news and glaringly obvious to them. Which is why, dear reader, the “you” and the “we” of this article are others like myself – people who do not have physical disabilities. My aim in writing this article is to do some consciousness raising amongst “us”.

A few weeks ago, I took an early morning walk down Indiranagar 100 Feet Road, Bangalore, a posh shopping street in a posh part of town. My goal was to photograph as many stores as I could, to figure out if a person in a wheelchair could enter these stores. I was motivated to do this when one day I found myself trying to picture the entrances to all the office buildings I’ve worked in. I discovered that I only had a vague idea of what they looked like, and I couldn’t recall the details – in particular, whether they had had wheelchair access or not.

Here are the photographs of the stores:

The entrance to a Cafe Coffee Day store, having steps but no ramp.

#1: Cafe Coffee Day

 

The entrance to a Hush Puppies store, having steps but no ramp.

#2: Hush Puppies

 

The entrance to a Jack & Jones store, having steps but no ramp.

#3: Jack & Jones

 

The entrance to a Van Heusen store, having steps but no ramp.

#4: Van Heusen

 

The entrance to a Planet Fashion store, having steps but no ramp.

#5: Planet Fashion

 

The entrance to a Reid and Taylor store, having steps but no ramp.

#6: Reid & Taylor

 

The entrance to a Croma store, having steps but no ramp.

#7: Croma

 

The entrance to a Sony Centre store, having a step but no ramp.

#8: Sony Centre

 

The entrance to a Costa Coffee store, having steps but no ramp.

#9: Costa Coffee

I saw around fifteen stores in all, and got photographs of all but a few (which had security guards outside). The situation was much worse than I expected. Nearly every store had steps and no ramp. Out of the whole lot, only two had ramps of any description. Here they are:

The entrance to a Reliance Trends store, having steps but no ramp.

#10: Reliance Trends

 

The entrance to a Tommy Hilfiger store, having steps but no ramp.

#11: Tommy Hilfiger

If you’re thinking would a wheelchair be able to go up those ramps?, you’re not alone. The answer to that is: No. To see why, here is an explanation on ramp gradients, from a document titled Designing for Accessibility – an Essential Guide for Public Buildings (written for compliance with the UK’s Equality Act):

The maximum permissible gradient is 1:12, with the occasional exception in the case of short, steeper ramps when refitting existing buildings.

What this means is: for a height of 1 foot, you need a ramp that is 12 feet long.

This document from the US law, the Americans with Disabilities Act, explains some of the exception cases for old buildings where a 1:12 gradient is not possible:

(i) A slope between 1:10 and 1:12 is allowed for a maximum rise of 6 inches.
(ii) A slope between 1:8 and 1:10 is allowed for a maximum rise of 3 inches. A slope steeper than 1:8 is not allowed.

Neither of the above two ramps meet that criterion. Indeed, they seem to have been designed not for wheelchairs at all; rather to move equipment trolleys in and out of the store.

A good resource for examples of good and bad construction is this page by the Australian Human Rights Commission: The good, the bad and the ugly – design and construction for access. Apart from ramps, it also describes many other essential design features, like:

A ramp with appropriate handrails and kerb rails

A ramp with appropriate handrails and kerb rails. Image via Australian Human Rights Commission; links to source

  • Tactile Ground Surface Indicators
  • Stairway design
  • Visual indicators
  • Door openings, thresholds and circulation space
  • Reception desks and counters
  • Signage
  • Lift call buttons
  • Floor surfaces
  • Restrooms

What does Indian law say? The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 mentions “Non-discrimination in the built environment”:

The appropriate Governments and the local authorities shall, within the limits of their economic capacity and development, provide for-
- ramps in public buildings;
- adaptation of toilets for wheel chair users;
- braille symbols and auditory signals in elevators or lifts;
- ramps in hospitals, primary health centers and other medical care and rehabilitation institutions.

(It’s not clear to me what the requirements of private property owners are.) In 2007, India ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Then in 2011, the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2011 was drafted in order to plug the gaps between the 1995 act and the CRPD. I hope that it will remedy some of these issues. For example, it says “The Central Government shall establish the National Centre for Universal Design and Barrier Free Environment in order to assist the country to become universally accessible and inclusive in terms of accessibility”.

In talking about rights, it’s important for us secular humanists to remember one thing – this is not just about rights, it’s about rights and dignities. People with disabilities ought to be able to enjoy the social participation that “we” all enjoy – as the CRPD puts it, “to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life”. This should not be a compromise or an accommodation. Many years ago, I was in Paris along with some family members, and we visited the Louvre Museum. One of my relatives was elderly, and she used a wheelchair. Our experience of visiting the museum with her was far, far better than anything I’ve seen in India – but there was still many things that gave us pause. Because it seemed like the lifts and the ramps were added in as an afterthought. Time and again, we would find the steps to go to the next floor right in front of us, but the lift or the ramp was nowhere to be seen – we’d have to go look for it. This caused her a lot of distress. While her rights to visit the museum were certainly being respected, her dignities were not – she felt marginalised, and that she was being a burden on us. Universal accessibility should instead be “baked” into our buildings right from the start of construction.

If you want to get some idea of what it is like for people with disabilities when they navigate daily life, here’s a short film by the UK’s Disability Rights Commission, titled “Talk”. The film “flips the script” and imagines a world which is dominated by and identified with people with disabilities, where able-bodied people are the ones who are marginalised:

NOTE: The subtitled and signed version of this video can be found here.

NOTE: The subtitled and signed version of this video can be found here.

What can we do?

Challenging oppressive norms in India is a daunting prospect. What can we do against the mass ignorance, the corruption, the apathy? First let’s get some questions out of the way. Should we do something about this? My answer: yes, we should. At Nirmukta we’ve often talked about morality and ethics and oppressive social systems and privilege, and I think it is an ethical obligation for those who occupy privileged social positions to fight for those who don’t. But how much can I do? How many issues can I fight for? This is true. It’s overwhelming isn’t it? Most of us care about some social issues that concern us, while other issues are off our radar, or we aren’t even aware of their existence. I think the first step is simply to educate ourselves enough, so that these other issues come onto our radar. And then we can find actionable steps to help. Here are some low-cost ways that I can think of:

1. Remove people’s “ignorance excuse”. Start talking about the lack of physical accessibility in India. When you’re out with your friends, point out inaccessible spaces to them. Ask your employers or the managers of your favourite restaurant why they don’t have wheelchair access. This is important because once you plant these seeds of awareness in people, it takes away their “ignorance excuse”. Just as I hope to have removed your “ignorance excuse” with this article.

2. Use social media. I posted the photos above to the respective Facebook pages of these companies (links: Costa, Coffee Day, Jack & Jones, Croma, Reid & Taylor, Sony, Reliance Trends). Some of the responses were encouraging, and some not (“Thank you for your suggestion”).  Imagine if all of us started doing this – taking pictures with our cellphones, and then posting them to the company’s Facebook pages. Marketing managers care a lot about the image of the companies they work for, and if that image is taking a hit, they’re going to notice. It’s easy to do, costs you nothing, and might make a difference.Screenshot of response from Reliance Trends to my photo post

Transcript of screenshot of Facebook exchange on right:

Reliance Trends – Official: Dear Sunil, thanks for sharing your concern. We will revert to you soon.

Reliance Trends – Official: Dear Sunil, just want to share that we do have a wheelchair ramp on the left side of store entrance that’s regularly used and then an elevator for movement across different floors.

Sunil D’Monte: I know there is a ramp, it’s there in the photo – the problem is that it is too steep. This document from the US law explains the structural requirements:
(i) A slope between 1:10 and 1:12 is allowed for a maximum rise of 6 inches.
(ii) A slope between 1:8 and 1:10 is allowed for a maximum rise of 3 inches. A slope steeper than 1:8 is not allowed. So, a 1-foot height needs a ramp 12 feet long. http://www.ada.gov/adastd94.pdf

Reliance Trends – Official: Thanks for sharing this information Sunil. We will check internally and take appropriate action.

3. If you participate in Nirmukta meetups in real  life, make disability rights part of your agendas. Nirmukta is much more than atheism and pseudoscience.

4. If you know any architects or building owners, talk to them about accessibility.

5. Fill up feedback forms. Make it a habit to evaluate the accessibility of any shop or restaurant you go to. If you find a chatty manager, make use of the opportunity and give them feedback directly.

6. Keep online accessibility in mind. If you run a website, keep these Web Content Accessibility Guidelines handy. (I thought all I needed to do was put ALT attributes on images. Looking at the checklist now, I realise just how much more there is to it.)

Such small acts might feel like a drop in the ocean, but as the last line in one of my favourite novels says: “Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”. If you have any experiences or suggestions to share, please do so in the comments. I’ll end with one final photo, a reminder to me that oppression can exist right under our noses, without us noticing it:

The entrance to the author's office building, having a single step, followed by three more steps, and then an unreachable elevator.

#12: The author’s office building

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This post was written by:

- who has written 9 posts on Nirmukta.

Sunil D'Monte is a freethinker, feminist and secular humanist.

23 Comments

  • Thank you Sunil for this compelling demonstration of initiating on-ground action that did not have to wait for organizational backing or elaborate surveys. This removes all common excuses about lack of time or resources, because all that is asked for during an exercise like the above is a phone-camera, a Facebook account…and a raised consciousness.

  • Thank you Sunil. Consciousness successfully raised in my case. I will keep this in mind and do what I can, where I can. You have shown the way.

  • Captain Mandrake

    I have seen some of these stores proudly displaying signs like “This store does not employ child labor”.

    Hope the day comes soon when these stores proudly display ” This store is wheel chair accessible “.

  • Thanks, Sunil for suggesting practical/doable actions. Last pic is scary, even an “abled” person can fall off! I am daring to make this comment here and not in the society because if I would then people will b like “hello princess/sissy/phoren return.” I guess we are viewed to be chivalrous/tough when everyday we successfully navigate our way through such hurdles. how dumb!!! Thanks again for the insights. Yours, SUPERMAN!

  • V. Balakrishnan

    This article should be given very wide publicity and made mandatory reading for as many people as possible.

    The irony is that most of our streets and shopping areas don’t have proper access for ANYBODY who isn’t really athletic, owing to encumbrances, encroachments, rubble-ridden “pavements”, haphazard parking of vehicles, just plain decades-old junk strewn about, etc. etc. A visit to Pondy Bazaar (close to where I live) in T. Nagar, Chennai, will suffice to illustrate (in less than 5 minutes) the seriousness of the problem.

    There is absolutely no excuse for any building built at PUBLIC expense to fall short on essentials like ramps, handrails, and all the other features that would make the whole building totally accessible to all users. As always, we seem to have laws in plenty in this matter too, but they remain on paper.

    I was amused by the author’s observation that he couldn’t get photographs of some shop-fronts because they had security guards sitting outside them. (This phobia against photographs seems to have been conditioned into the Indian DNA by years of Soviet-style regulations posted in all public places. In this day of GoogleMaps, the absurdity of it all is obvious.) In the present instance, if the photographing had been attempted by a white person {‘foreign tourist’), I have no doubt the same guards would have scurried to get into the picture with all teeth showing. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but this is the reality. It speaks volumes about our ethos and our sociology.

    Professor V. S. Sunder of The Institute of Mathematical Sciences has been writing regularly in the leading newspapers about this issue. His articles, humorous and at the same time most persuasive, are real eye-openers to those who are either unaware of, or else blissfully disregard, the serious challenges faced routinely by those who are compelled to use wheelchairs in our country. It would be good to join forces with him.

    • Regarding the streets and pavements, you’re so right – during my walk that occurred to me too, that apart from not being able to enter those shops, someone in a wheelchair would find it hard to make that journey itself.

      Regarding the security guards, I think I should have been braver and tried anyway! Next time that’s what I’ll do.

  • Hi Sunil,

    Your article was music to my ears. I have been harping on this and rreelated themes for close to a year, as Bala (a physicist from IIT Madras) points out in hi comment above. Please visit my blog http://differentstrokes-vss.blogspot.in/
    if you want to see some of my musinggs.

  • While in theory, it would indeed be a noble goal to have wheelchair access for all buildings, let us analyze the situation in the Indian context.

    As Prof. Balakrishnan has pointed out, the rest of the infrastructure such as footpaths are a challenge even for physically normal people, so they would preclude wheelchair ambulation in most parts of India anyway. How often does one come across wheelchair bound persons moving on Indian streets on their own? It is something akin to an impossibility. Kerbs are more than a foot high in many places, with no tapering given near intersections/drive ways. Not to mention the fact that the sidewalks themselves are highly uneven, with missing slabs,or other encroachments, etc. So, wheelchair bound persons cannot move in public anyway without the help of others. This is the sad (but realistic) scenario in India.

    That said, the slope of the ramp is not so important as much as having some kind of ramp in the first place. Most of the handicapped people in India use a bit of help from the public in any case. If not the public, security guards/establishment staff will be eager to help clients, from what I have seen. At least, family members/friends with whom they have coffee with at Coffee Day. Even without ramps, people in wheelchairs are carried palanquin style across steps in most places in India.

    Another thing is construction practice in India. In the US, the floor of most small commercial establishments are at the same level as the sidewalk outside the entrance. Hence no steps are needed. In India, the ground floor is invariably several feet higher when compared to the sidewalk, hence steps are needed. I still have not come up with a reason this needs to be so. In buildings with basements, I can understand, but this practice seems to be followed by builders for those even without one.

    Asking establishments to provide ramps by campaigns will not work because most of the commercial chains mentioned lease the space from someone else. They cannot make structural modifications without the permission of the owner. And adding ramps will invariably encroach on the sidewalks which are already narrow in India. For this, permission needs to be sought from the civic bodies which, of course, will raise a million objections. It is not easy to fit the ramps retroactively to an existing structure without encroaching on public space.

    No point in citing US norms. Indian builders don’t even follow Indian norms. There is no standardization for even basic stuff like height/depth of steps in staircases or minimum ceiling clearance in pathways.

    These changes would be hard to implement, in my opinion. It may not even garner much public support, for the public hardly comes across wheelchair-bound persons in the public who move on their own. Instead, they may retort, why don’t we ask civic bodies to first make sidewalks smooth and wheelchair friendly so that it benefits everyone, including wheelchair bound persons?

    • More power to those passers-by who do stop to lend a hand or a shoulder, but we can ask, should they have to? Instances of good samaritans can be found aplenty during episodes of communal violence in India, but does their presence mean that strengthening law and order is no longer a priority? Likewise, increasing accessibility as a systemic priority cannot be diminished by pointing to an occasional samaritan and saying they are all we need to address the problem.

      Intransigence on part of property owners or civic authorities is all the more reason to make advocacy more vocal, visible and vigorous and not less.

      Comparisons with US regulations aren’t at all far-fetched. The Republic of India universalized adult franchise before the US did, and there’s no reason why an India endowed with similar collective will cannot universalize physical accessibility to public spaces.

      Vocal articulation of a collective demand of the sort this article initiates, can go a long way in spurring Indian innovators who have a remarkable record in building affordable assistive technologies. The Jaipur foot is widely used worldwide and IITian Shanu Sharma’s stair-climbing wheelchair’s ingenuity and effectiveness can be visualized even from this still photo. So, are reconfigurable ramps that don’t require permanent structural alterations, too much to ask of our structural engineers?

      Isn’t there everything to gain by making accessibility and assistive technologies a household topic and a workplace priority?

      • I am just saying that the wheelchair ramps may never get used, because the disabled don’t use wheelchairs on public roads in India, for the reasons stated above. I haven’t come across any wheelchair bound people in India, except in the confines of a hospital or airport. Even there, they are used for moving old/infirm people around and are almost always pushed by others.

        On the other hand, many disabled do use hand-pedaled tricycles, because they are more practical, given the condition of Indian sidewalks. They use them on the roads themselves. They also carry with them a pair of crutches, so that they can get off and get into buildings, shops, etc.

        The author’s suggestion of fixing just the last mile (entrance of a Coffee Day or Reliance store) is not going to help when the rest of the line is badly damaged and there is no signal anyway, to give an analogy.

        ” The Jaipur foot is widely used worldwide and IITian Shanu Sharma’s stair-climbing wheelchair’s ingenuity and effectiveness can be visualized even from this still photo.”
        Exactly. Innovation should be focused on these, so that the disabled become less dependent on the existence of ramps, etc. In other words, being more independent.

        In most Indian railway stations, there are only steps and no lifts to cross platforms. There are thousands upon thousands of elderly/infirm people who suffer due to this everyday. Why don’t we first ask the government to do something about this first? Providing lifts will have a much bigger impact in terms of the expenditure incurred. I wonder why there has been no PIL filed by anyone in this regard.

        • “The author’s suggestion of fixing just the last mile (entrance of a Coffee Day or Reliance store) is not going to help when the rest of the line is badly damaged and there is no signal anyway, to give an analogy.”

          As I said in the first paragraph – ‘My aim in writing this article is to do some consciousness raising amongst “us”’. I am aware that lack of ramps is only a small part of the problem. This is the aspect that jumped out to me, and I wanted to make other people like me aware of it, and use it as an example to raise consciousness.

      • Here is an overdue and welcome step to make Republic Day programming more accessible.

    • V. Balakrishnan

      “In India, the ground floor is invariably several feet higher when compared to the sidewalk, hence steps are needed. I still have not come up with a reason this needs to be so.” The reason is simple. There are essentially no functioning storm water drains on the roads and streets. Half an hour of rain suffices to flood the streets temporarily, leading to a heady mix of slush, floating garbage from the uncleared garbage piles around every garbage bin, and worst of all, dissolved human and animal waste from the ever-present deposits around the said bins. This unbelievably foul stuff then enters one’s compound and house, unless the latter are sufficiently elevated. The cost of construction increases sharply with the elevation. Builders say that a plinth level that is at least 3 feet above the road level is desirable. They also point out how road laying is done without bothering to remove the existing broken layer, so that the road level keeps going up at the average rate of 4 inches every 3 years or so. In about 15-20 years, you are going to get your home flooded at the ground floor level unless you have allowed an elevation of at least 3 feet above road level at the time of construction. Commercial establishments will naturally spend more and make this at least 4 to 6 feet to start with, if they can.

      After a lot of observation, I have come to the conclusion that the only way to have access to every inch of public space, including both sides of the road, pavements, footpaths if any, rubble heaps, pillar boxes, stairs, gutters, ditches, bus shelters, encroachments, etc. is to be a biker on a high-powered motorbike (500 cc or more). That is indeed the bulldozer style of locomotion which most of today’s road users seem to be striving for, no matter what they are actually driving.

      Returning to the original theme, while it is laudable that peope in our country come forward readily to help wheelchair users, in many cases such help is simply impossible because of steep/narrow steps and the lack of ramps. Moreover, I think it is all about independence—empowerment is obviously more desirable and more appreciated than sympathy or even assistance.

      • Prof Balakrishnan, first let me introduce myself as a former student of IITM who graduated in 1990. I have even attended a handful of your lectures and seen them on youtube more recently and have enjoyed them.

        Your explanation for the elevated plinth in India makes sense. However recently, Chennai Corporation has acquired a few cold milling machines to grind down the existing road surface, but I guess, they are not being put to use as much as they should be.

        I agree with your point about independence. If ramps need to be provided, as the author suggests, I don’t think it is prudent to go on a mass campaign without proving that the disabled benefit from them, without some evidence. First, let some data be gathered as to how many times existing ramps are used by the disabled in a few selected places. After that, ramps could be built at a few more places with publicity given to them. Again, the number of times these get used by wheelchairs in some time frame, say 3 months, can be collected. Only if there are at least a few instances of usage, the proposal would make any sense. Otherwise, it would be a waste of effort that could have been better spent elsewhere.

        • V. Balakrishnan

          In some matters, action that leads to even a partial cure is preferable to protracted discussion of ways of effecting a total cure. Moreover, we’re very indolent when it comes to translating good intentions into concrete action. Constant reminders, persistent prodding and vocal pleas are necessary. A ramp next to the steps in every building should become part of the basic building plan, just as fire-escapes, the number of staircases, etc. are supposed to be. The number of arthritic or otherwise incapacitated elderly people is even larger than the number using wheelchairs. They struggle just as much to climb even a few steps. By the way, have we not seen numerous instances where the steps of a spanking new building are cracked, and tiles broken, by heavy equipment like generators, air-conditioners, etc. being dragged over them? A ramp would enable these to be wheeled in easily. Forethought is not one of our strong suits, but at least let afterthought provide some remedies!

          • I agree that the proposal will benefit not just wheelchair bound persons, but also others, as you say. If the plan needs to be put into action,a broader appeal is needed so that it could be sold to the authorities/corporates. So, I don’t think that it is wrong to play the devil’s advocate, since misgivings such as mine would, no doubt, crop in the minds of the concerned authorities, as to the efficacy of the proposal, given the enormous logistics problem this would pose in the case of existing structures. And it will not hurt to back up this plan with some kind of hard data, to precisely deflect these kinds of questions/skepticism. For example, the number of wheelchair bound persons in metros, plus some kind of signature campaign from them, etc. could help.

            Some of the plans with ostensibly good intentions have backfired (such as the SC order to remove tinted films on windows, to supposedly reduce crimes against women). I am just saying that the case made by the author needs to be bulletproof against such criticism, considering the enormous challenges posed in its implementation, from legalities to cost to disruption of existing business.

        • Taking efforts to put a policy in place that would be disabled-friendly need not be viewed as waste – is it necessary for us to see people in wheelchairs struggle to get into buildings and to see a few instances of usage before we start thinking about the necessity of ramps?
          The very fact that public spaces are not conducive for their mobility might be the reason for the persons in wheelchairs to avoid coming out. So can we say not many people are out in wheelchairs, why should we spend on ramps?

          • Yes, I agree, it is a chicken and egg situation here. I am not against the parallel development of all public amentities (including roads, sidewalks, etc.) in parallel with entrance ramps to buildings. And as I had earlier mentioned, why is no one making noises about the lack of elevators in railway stations? I believe it is far easier to get the SC to pass an order in this case, since it is only the Railways that will be responsible for implementing it.

            If the author’s proposal is not about making ramps mandatory (such as by an SC order), I doubt this plan will be taken up voluntarily by many corporates. I am very skeptical whether even state assemblies will pass such an order to that effect. So the best course would be to make a strong case and take it right the way up to the SC.

    • Dear Mr. Shankar,

      I have several serious issues with your assessments, as in the following paragraph:

      How often does one come across wheelchair bound persons moving on Indian streets on their own? It is sommething akin to an impossibility. Kerbs are more than a foot high in many places, with no tapering given near intersections/drive ways. Not to mention the fact that the sidewalks themselves are highly uneven, with missing slabs,or other encroachments, etc. So, wheelchair bound persons cannot move in public anyway without the help of others. This is the sad (but realistic) scenario in India.

      I will have you know that simply by making the noises made in Mr. D’Monte’s article, I have bullied various scientific organisations including my own to have the infrastructure in their institutions which would permit me to move around on my motorised wheelchair and be a functional scientist when I visit there. Of course, I could follow your advise and wait for people to bury me rather than unrealistically expect India to allow me the kind of existence that UK allows Stephen Hawking.

      By the way, if ever you chose to visit my institute (The Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Taramani, Chennai) I will be happy to show you how accessible it has become to me and my wheelchair after I started making D’Monte-esquenoises. So maybe people like me can benefit after all by the `why not we’ attitude expressed here.

    • As Prof. Balakrishnan has pointed out, the rest of the infrastructure such as footpaths are a challenge even for physically normal people, so they would preclude wheelchair ambulation in most parts of India anyway.

      Here is a promising development, the leveraged freedom wheelchair, whose performance in trials in Indian settings has been impressive.

      TEDx talk: Amos Winter: The cheap all-terrain wheelchair

  • Kudos to you Sunil for such a hard hitting article. It’s not just in Bangalore, most schools, colleges, offices, malls-multiplexes & other commercial all over India are not disable friendly, including the national capital where I live. And if this is the condition in the big metro cities, we can imagine how dreadful it would be for a disabled person in the smaller cities & towns. Even at most of the state-of-the art Metro stations of Delhi, there’s a complete absence of ramps to washrooms for the disabled, let’s not even think about the condition of Indian Railway stations.

    To change this appalling scenario, we must first work towards creating awareness about disabilities. Many people in India (and I can vouch for most people here in North India) are ignorant about such harsh realities of life (coz it doesn’t affect them or their family & friends) and instead live a cocooned existence believing that the world is a nice place (and “drugs” like Bollywood, Television, Cricket etc keep them in their cocoons). No wonder, they only happen to discover such disabilities through cheesy potboilers of Bollywood(and Bollywood folks usually don’t treat disabilities sensitively). Most people here in Delhi learned about Alzheimer’s from “Black”, Autism from “Koi Mil Gaya”, Progeria from “Paa” and Quadriplegia from “Guzaarish”. It’s funny but disgusting at the same time.

    It’s also a failure of our education system that’s unable to make students aware of such disabilities at primary level (when 3% or more of the population suffers from some kind of disability, why should only medical students learn about them at a higher level).

    We first need to generate awareness at grassroots level (why should people learn it from movies) and then ensure that all the infrastructure eventually becomes disabled friendly. Disabled people transcend all barriers of race, religion, caste, ethnicity,nationality, class, gender, sexual orientation etc. They along with the Economically underprivileged have the hardest life among all people and clearly it’s only these 2 people that deserve reservations in Educational Institutions & Jobs and not people of some caste, religion, race or ethnicity. Disability rights is a very relevant issue, however it’s almost never discussed, neither in the Parliament nor in the Legislative Assemblies.

    Call me cynical, but I don’t see a very bright future for the disabled in India coz no matter how many relentless efforts we put, this country is still full of severely retarded zealots and their absurd issues related to religion, caste, ethnicity/language and such retarded zealots always make sure that their nonsensical issues take precedence over any relevant issue – be it the environment, education reforms, healthcare, traffic management, power shortage, care of the elderly, empowering the disabled etc. Maybe a few educated elites like us (and elites we are) can bring some changes in the big cities but most of India will be happier if they get reservations and benefits for their religious/caste group and vote to power those parties who give it to them, even if the disabled or the elderly in their home are suffering and are even living 24 hours a day without power.

  • “No Country for Wheelchairs | Nirmukta” ended up being a superb
    posting. In case it included even more photographs this would be even more
    effective. Regards -Lee

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