India’s first accessibility audit fails to find a single accessible building

NEW DELHI: India’s first accessibility audit of buildings and public places has not found a single completely accessible building for persons with disabilities, exposing terrible plight of persons with disabilities in the country.

A person with disabilities climbing the first of at least three flights of stairs to access the polling station at José Martí Technical High School in St Catherine Eastern. (Photo credit: Tyrone Reid/jamaica-gleaner.com)The first phase of audit, launched across 31 cities as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet initiative Accessible India, threw up shocking results, revealing appalling state of toilets and other facilities for persons with disabilities in public buildings, hospitals, railway stations and educational institutions, and half-hearted attempts at building ramps in the name of accessibility.

The department of empowerment of persons with disabilities (Divyangjan) had entrusted the task of auditing public buildings across 31 cities to 11 empanelled auditors.

ET spoke to 10 of the 11 auditors to gauge the results of their audits.  Svayam, which was awarded audit work of most buildings in eight cities, found almost all buildings had obstacles like drain covers or bad roads at the entrance. Almost 95% of the buildings audited did not have a toilet for persons with disabilities and of the 5%, which did have toilets for persons with disabilities, 75% were in a sorry state.

Universal Design Centre could find three of 29 buildings in Goa with basic measures like ramps but no building could be classified as accessible.

Samarthyam found good facilities in Chennai Metro rail system, but there was scope for improvement.

Auditors have pointed out that even if measures have been taken, they need to be redone.

Anil Mudgal of Bhopal-based Arushi, said, “In the name of accessibility most buildings have constructed ramps but there are no handrails, and the gradient is so poor that they need to be demolished and constructed again. There is a long way to go.”

Mudgal’s team found even Bhopal’s Vidhan Sabha complex, designed by Charles Correa, inaccessible.

Samarthyam’s Anjlee Agarwal recounted how her team had to seek district magistrate’s immediate help when it discovered very poor working conditions in Thiruvananthapuram’s Language Institute.

“Eleven women with disabilities were employed here and they were made to sit on the floor, which made getting up very difficult. The staircase had no handrail and one woman had even fallen and suffered a fracture. The floor and staircase were very slippery. These women were even made to work over time,” Agarwal said.

What has shocked the auditors is the lack of official clearances for conducting audits despite it being an initiative of the prime minister.

Svayam has not been able to complete audits of five buildings — three in Delhi and two in Jaipur. The buildings in Delhi are Shastri Bhawan, which ironically houses the programme’s nodal ministry of social justice and empowerment, motor licensing office in Dwarka, and Delhi State Cancer Institution in GTB hospital complex.

Other audit organisations faced difficulties in police-run establishments like police headquarters and jails.

G Ramanathan of Sama Foundation said his organisation could not get clearances and finish Bengaluru audit in time.

Most auditors battled with low awareness about the program.

Sruti Mohapatra of Swabhiman, which conducted audits in Gangtok, Jammu & Kashmir, Lakshadweep and Patna, said her teams were driven out of educational institutions in Patna. “They did not recognise the ministry’s letter asking us to conduct audits. Though the state nodal officers were very helpful, there is a need to take police establishments into confidence,” she said.

Sminu Jindal, founder of Svayam, said, “It was an eye opening exercise for us. There is a need for awareness generation. It should be an integral part of the Accessible India program.”

Shishu Sarothi, the organisation entrusted with audits of Aizawl and Guwahati, could not be contacted despite repeated calls and emails.

Leprosy Mission Trust did not share audit findings of Nasik. DePWD did not reply to a questionnaire sent by ET as of press time on Thursday.

Source: Economics Times

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