Less than 50% government buildings in city accessible: Survey

Asia-Pacific, December 15 2015

AHMEDABAD, INDIA: If you are a person with disability, the chances are that there will be no ramps or lifts tailored to your needs at government buildings. What makes matters worse is that despite the provisions of Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, very few government officials are aware of what the law requires. These are some of the findings of a survey conducted recently by Legal Services Committee of Gujarat National Law University (GNLU) and Blind People’s Association (BPA).

On December 3 – the International Day of Persons with Disabilities – Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the ambitious ‘Accessible India’ campaign for persons with disabilities. The aim of the campaign is to provide barrier-free environment to persons with disabilities. According to 2011 census, there are over 2.68 crore disabled persons in India.

“We welcome the government’s efforts through this initiative to make persons with disabilities more acceptable in society,” said Bhushan Punani, executive secretary of BPA.

“But it is necessary to have a reality check to understand the situation on the ground. As the Legal Services Committee of GNLU was working closely with BPA for the academic year, students were asked to find out the facts without bias and see the matter from the point of view of legal rights,” said Punani. Incidentally, the survey by GNLU and BPA is the first one of its kind to be conducted in Gujarat. As part of the study, Level of Accessibility Available to Persons with Disabilities at Public Places’, the eight committee members surveyed 53 government buildings over a period of two months and interviewed 15 government officials.

Shipra Mishra, a GNLU committee member who was part of the survey , said that when one looks at legal definition of ‘disabled’, the word covers a number of disabilities.”While the law itself is strong, its implementation is not satisfactory . India has also been part of a number of international conventions that support the right of persons with disabilities. But during the survey at Ahmedabad, the picture that emerged finally did not support the claims,” she said. She further said that at most places, they did not find government officials very supportive of the cause.

The survey was divided into three parts – physical verification of the infrastructure at places such as courts, police stations, hospitals, etc.; talks with government authorities to assess their awareness about the legal provisions; and talks with persons with disabilities to know their views. The survey found that most places, including banks and police stations, did not have functional ramps for wheelchairs. Most modern lifts with digital keypad did not have Braille symbols. Likewise, barring a few places such as Kalupur railway station, none had auditory cues for the blind. During the interviews, disabled persons said that though the BRTS is lauded for its low-floor buses and same height of platform and bus, most of the time they find it difficult to sit on designated spots. The practice of announcing the names of approaching bus stops has also been discontinued. The ramps are slippery. Many of these problems can be found in the AMTS as well. Most disabled people complained that it is impossible to cross roads because of the heavy traffic and non-adherence to traffic rules.Even colleges that teach engineering and architecture are not equipped with ramps.

The central government is planning Rights of Persons with Disability Bill 2014 that will replace two-decade old Persons with Disabilities Act. The experts believe that the bill will provide the much-needed equal rights to persons with disabilities instead of sympathy. In such a scenario, it is important that such rules are communicated and implemented at the lowest level of government functioning. The infrastructural facilities such as ramps and lifts not only help persons with disabilities but also elderly and children. The survey shows that less than half government buildings provide basic facilities -a grim picture even after twenty years of Persons with Disabilities Act.

Source: Times of India

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