Thursday, February 2, 2023

Disabled-accessible cities remain a mirage

Accessibility remains a major challenge for the physically challenged in India, and on International Day for People with Disabilities on Saturday, they called for urgent redressal as many buildings, even in tier 1 and 2 cities, remain unapproachable for them.
The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 provided a timeline of five years for making all existing public buildings accessible by June 14, but out of the total 2,839 buildings, 585 state buildings and 1,030 central government buildings have been made barrier-free for the disabled.
More than two per cent of India’s population are persons with disabilities. Experts feel that including compliance related to disabled-friendly constructions while clearing building plans would be a significant step in addressing the accessibility issue.
“Recently, I had to visit a government building to get some documents and it was an absolute nightmare,” wheelchair-bound Anwar Ali, a resident of Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan, said.
“’The office was on the third floor and the lift was not functioning most of the time. I had to visit the building regularly over two months and it was a torture,” he said.
The government last year launched the Sugamya Bharat app which aims to enable people with disabilities and the elderly to register accessibility-related problems in buildings, in modes of transport, or any infrastructure by uploading pictures on it.
But according to anI filed by PTI, around half of the complaints were pending resolution till August with states and UTs.
There were a total of 1,009 complaints received through the app till August this year and 509 complaints were pending resolution at the state/UTs concerned authorities, the Department of Disabilities said in itsI response.
Asked for the reason behind the pending complaints, the Department of Disability Affairs in itsI reply said the complaints received through the Sugamya Bharat App are directly forwarded to authorities concerned of the state/UTs with a request to take appropriate action to make the premises accessible.
“There is no specific reason for non-redressal of the grievances available,” the department said.
However, sources at the department said there are practical problems related to logistics associated with the resolution of some complaints which is the main reason for the backlog with the states and UTs.
Among states and UTs, Gujarat has received the highest number of complaints on the app at 406 out of which 311 are pending resolution.
Delhi has received the second-highest number of complaints on the app at 128 and out of that 60 are pending resolution.
The situation worsens in private sectors and rural areas, activists and people with disabilities say.
Rakbir (name changed) from Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh works as a peon in a private building and the 52-year-old who is physically challenged has to climb two floors every day.
“I have requested repeatedly that something be done. There is not even a ramp there, but I feel anxious that I will lose my job if I continue pushing for it,” he said.
Disability rights activist Arman Ali, who is the executive director of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People in New Delhi, said accessible infrastructure is a distant dream for India.
“Accessibility has remained at the ramp and tactile pathways and follows no standards. There is no city, town or village in the country which is accessible for people with disabilities, where one can access any place that you want to go at your will, either government building or private property (public place),” he told PTI.
Ali said that despite having such strong legislation which mandates all public places to be disabled-friendly within five years of its existence, the accessibility provision for disabled people completely missed the agenda of the governments and private sector.
“Accessibility for persons with disabilities is not among the compliance needed for municipal bodies when they give building permission.
“Whatever has happened in the name of barrier-free environment is a very urban metro city centric accessibility limited to malls and five-star hotels. Rural India largely remains inaccessible,” he said.
The timeline of five years under the 2016 law expired on June 14 this year after which the central advisory board on disability asked all states and UTs to assess the public buildings that are to be made accessible and do it in the “shortest possible time”.
By Uzmi Athar, PTI

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