Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Accessible India Campaign (Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan)

According to a recent draft of the National Building Code, "it will be mandatory for all airports and railway stations to have toilets accessible to the disabled. However, this is not mandatory for 14 other kinds of public places including office buildings, cinemas, convention halls, theatres, art galleries, libraries, museums, hotels, restaurants, schools and educational institutions". (This building code would seem to say disabled people need not attend movies or theatre, eat out in restaurants, or even worse, need not go to school or college lest they might want to use a toilet or be fortunate enough to find employment in an office, where they might need to use the toilet during working hours!)

Accessible India Campaign (Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan) proclaims that it is the vision of the Government to have an inclusive society where equal opportunities and access is provided for the growth and development of PWDs to lead productive, safe and dignified lives.

It also proclaims an `Action Plan'  which includes the creation of a Steering Committee and Programme Monitoring Unit with representation of Accessibility Professionals and experts; and such experts working in the disability sector are invited to send their particulars with details of experience to the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities or by sending email to mukesh.harvard@gmail.com

If you want to pick a cricket team with a chance of winning anything, do you do so by requesting `experts to send in a bio-data to an appropriate Government Department' or by doing some small homework on who the experts are by asking around? You would find consensus on the best people within a very very short time indeed! If you did that, you would know you have to look no further than Shivani Gupta of AccessAbility or Anjlee Agarwal of Samarthyam, both conveniently located in Delhi. Or if, unlike most decision makers in Delhi, you were prepared to consider the possibility of such expertise existing outside Delhi, you could look up `Disability Rights Alliance' or Bhargav Sundaram of Callidai Motor Works, both in Chennai. (By the way, Bhargav has been sending emails for more than a week now, with serious suggestions to various people in the field trying to put a mechanism in place by which this effort would really be a serious effort rather than just another bit of lip-service; and he seems to have received no official response from Delhi!) If you are really serious about doing what the avowed `Action Plan' above promises, please respond to me. I will give you some email addresses of people to whom this business of accessibility is a very serious matter. You could ask each of them for some names of people doing good work in this area, and you will be surprised at the size of the overlaps of the different lists you will receive.

So in the hope that something clicks, I am posting this in my blog as well as sending an email to the address given above.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Whichche din? Certainly not this month!

The first few days of December have been some of the most nerve-wracking and miserable that it has been my misfortune to live through. The reader of my last post would know I was hoping to go with my wife to New Zealand to be with our daughter for our 25th wedding anniversary, and I was anxiously waiting for the medical assessors of NZ immigration to stop pondering over the weighty matter of the possible implications that giving an Indian with MS a two-week visitor visa might have for the national health or health care facilities and consequently for the national treasury. I had already bought tickets a while ago when they were not prohibitively highly priced, according to which I should have left Chennai not long after midnight on the 8th. When it became clear that I was not going to get an answer one way or the other even on the 4th, I had to cancel our tickets so I wouldn't suffer a heavy loss as a `no show' come flight time on the 8th. That was strike one.

On the other hand, we had come to Bangalore for a conference in Bangalore during the first few days of the month. This had the one positive consequence that we had come away from Chennai when it witnessed the heaviest rains in more than a century and was subjected to unbelievable flooding; roads, railway lines and airport connections to the outside world were all shut down, and the city witnessed  the kind of horror no one would ever want their worst enemy to witness - no power for several days on end, water-logging in streets necessitating rescue teams in dinghys helping to evacuate people from the islands their homes had become, many houses/apartments on the ground floor being inundated with two or three feet deep water.... But the city also witnessed amazing selfless acts day after day to voluntarily help others in distress, and there were no reports of crime of the sort associated to times when there are blackouts. The world heard praises being heaped on the city, and the citizens announced proudly that they were Channaiites! Chennai lost more than 300 lives, a bit more than the fatalities in Paris, and received a minuscule proportion of the bytes the Paris tragedy was showered with by the world media. With further rain forecast for the second week, we have been told to stay in Bangalore for another week and only then come back! Even Chennai airport only started resuming all normal flights on the 7th. So our fond hopes of leaving 7th/8th night for Wellington were stymied by meaningless bureaucratic delays and climate-change induced unprecedented flooding. Strike two!

December 3rd, the International day of Persons with Disabilities, saw another fiasco (this time, a predictable one!) The Prime Minister of India had advertised the inaugration of a grand programme for rendering the country an accessible place for the enormous number of PWD in the country. When I heard about it from my disability activist friends in Delhi, I asked them to check on the accessibility of the venue chosen for this `marquee event'. What I heard from them did little to diminish my fears regarding the true outcome of this scheme announced amid such pomp and glamour. Only the first two rows were accessible to people in wheelchairs, and it was then literallly a case of `devil take the hindmost'. Strike three and you are out!