DISABILITY AND ACCESSIBILITY IN PUBLIC SPACE
2 Jan 2022
Over time, there is a considerable change in how society treats people with disabilities. They are no longer seen as a charity and liability to society. Instead, they are seen as equal persons in the milieu who may be different but more or less capable than others. The change in the view attributes to some measures and initiatives taken by the governments to provide equal opportunities to all people. One example to prove this point is T.V Raman, who is blind and managed to become a computer scientist and is considered one of the most intellectual persons at Google. Despite her disabilities, Helen Keller, blind, deaf, and mute, is an inspiration for many disabled persons. She is an author; disability rights advocate who proved us persons with such disabilities can do wonders. Today, in this modern and progressive era, the definition of disability has a whole different meaning. Disability no longer highlights the limitation in the person, but they are now seen as the mirror image of human diversity. The quality of being easily usable or obtainable to gain or use something is called accessibility. When it comes to accessibility in public space, not everyone has the privilege to access everything readily available for others. Especially the people with specific mental or physical disabilities often find it difficult to blend in with society. They often struggle to manage their day-to-day activities. Even though there is a significant change in the perception of the people about physically/mentally challenged people, their accessibility to basic public amenities remains a crucial problem to be addressed. This article focuses on addressing some major adversities faced by the people and discussing possible solutions.
Social barriers faced by disabled people in India
The report by WHO shows that 15% of the world population are disabled, contributing to approximately 150 million persons with disabilities in India. In other words, almost one in every six persons in India has some form of physical or mental disability. Public places are not well sophisticated to address and fulfill the needs of the people, like lack of access to signposts in the Braille language. Even though some seats are allocated for physically disabled people in busses and trains, but in reality, they are not available for the persons assigned. It sometimes happens because when there is a shortage of public transport, people will ignore the need to allow the seats to physically disabled people. As a result, these people face problems during emergencies due to lapses in the implementation. There is no access to basic amenities like education material and medical prescriptions in a prescribed format. Thanks to the NATIONAL EDUCATIONAL POLICY, the government acknowledged the desperate need to design a curriculum where disabled children will be taught the subjects through semantics which is just the beginning but the most crucial step in addressing the problems of exceptional children. Other issues include the absence of well-lit and obstruction-free paths for persons with visual disabilities, the lack of adequately constructed ramps, and slippery and unevenly constructed surfaces.
Disability laws in India
Despite the lack of any mandatory clauses in the constitution which primarily criminalizes the discrimination against disabled people, but there are some remarkable judgments in our judicial history reminding the need to acknowledge and emphasize the rights of disabled people. Justice Krishna Iyer, in the case of Dr. Jagdish Saran & Ors. Vs. Union of India 1980 AIR 820 held, “equality is not degraded or neglected where special provisions are geared to the larger goal of the disabled getting over their disability consistently with the general good and individual merit.” Moreover, implicit in Article 21, which guarantees to all persons resident within India the right to live with dignity and respect, is the belief that persons with disabilities should be entitled to enjoy all liberties granted to everyone else? Furthermore, Article 41, which forms a part of the Directive Principles of State Policy, reiterates the responsibility of the government to take all appropriate measures to provide certain classes of people, including the disabled, equal access to employment, education, and other fields of human endeavor.
Suggestions for making public places accessible for disabled people
The important steps required to mitigate the adversaries faced by the disabled are -
1. The entrances of the public places with stairs must be designed so that visually challenged people find it easy to take steps.
2. Sign posts should be available in all public places, making accessing public areas for challenged people quite simple.
3. Special entrances should be arranged in public places like airports, bus stations, and railway stations, and information should be completely available in Braille language and announcements.
4. Footpaths must be designed in a sophisticated way so that pedestrians can walk comfortably. Public washrooms should also be in sign language.
5. Elevators need to be disabled-friendly with pictorial symbols and audio instructions.
6. Wheelchairs and battery cars whose availability is limited in public places must be gradually increased to avoid problems for people.
Simply, the government cannot be blamed for not taking any substantive measures to remove the social barriers for disabled people. As citizens of a progressive society, we should be socially responsible and conscious enough to do our part of our duty to help disabled persons make basic facilities accessible for them. It is utterly disappointing that even though India claims to embrace and accept disabled people as part of human diversity, very few measures are taken to make the public space better for them. It can be attributed to the fact that disabled persons are treated as minorities and the lack of efforts by the government to enforce strict laws which promote the rights of disabled people. It should also be noted that most disabled people still view themselves as recipients of care and sympathy. Marcia H. Roux, in this context, cited: People with disabilities provide us with a means to understand how social life can be organized to be fair, to be, to be humanitarian, to be equal. They offer us an opportunity to go beyond finding the roots of charity and to look instead for the origins of justice. Equality and non-discrimination, which are the very basic origins of human rights law, can be brought into light by reflecting on the place of people with disabilities in our societies.”
- VINJAMURU SRIVATSA