Barriers, visible and invisible
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- Published 26.08.04
Aug. 26: Ranit Barua, a school student, was excited about the newly renovated Nehru Park in the city, thrown open to the public recently. However, a visit to the park one afternoon left the excited youngster on the verge of tears.
While Ranit’s brother pranced his way in, Ranit was forced to remain outside, as his wheelchair could not move in through the entrance.
His mother, Jaya, said, “I looked at the children playing in the park and I was so distressed at my son’s plight that I decided to return home right away.”
Ranit is not an isolated case. The physically challenged remains an invisible minority, as making the city disabled-friendly is last on the list of priorities of an insensitive government.
“We don’t see the disabled regularly at public places, roads, parks and buses as they cannot access these places. Even the newly-constructed buildings, let alone the old ones, do not have any provision for the disabled,” said Ketaki Bardalai, an activist.
Repeated appeals to the authorities for a disabled-friendly Nehru Park and an accessible secretariat complex have fallen on deaf ears.
Prasanna Kumar Pincha, regional manager of Action Aid India and a visually-impaired man himself, filed a PIL in Gauhati High Court three years back on the indifference towards the disabled in the northeastern states.
“I had asked them to make the new capital complex of Assam barrier-free and accessible. But apart from verbal assurances, we have not seen anything substantial,” said Pincha.
The authorities are slack in spite of the fact that the central public works department has issued specific guidelines and space standards for barrier-free structures for the disabled and the senior citizens.
The guidelines were issued according to the provisions of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1996.
K.K. Hazarika, secretary in the social welfare department, who also holds the additional portfolio of commissioner for disability, said, “As the nodal agency, we issue instructions to the various departments from time to time. We can also act on any complaint we receive. However, we have not received any complaint so far, apart from certain demands from various organisations for the disabled.”
A.K. Absar Hazarika, deputy commissioner of Kamrup (metropolitan), said a separate entrance has been earmarked for the disabled at the DC’s office in Guwahati. “We will make it barrier-free and accessible for the disabled. We have also issued instructions to the PWD to make the government buildings accessible.”
The Employment Exchange at Rehabari has registered 5,000 disabled candidates from 1998 to December 2003. However, there are no accurate figures on the number of disabled people in the city.
Appropriate signs at public places, warnings and route information are also very important. “A person in a wheelchair will be less than 1,200 mm tall. A person, who is shortsighted, needs contrasting textures along walkways and audible signs at dangerous areas. Signs should be useful to everyone, easily visible at the eye level, readable by moving the fingers and well-lit for night identification,” she added.
“Provisions have been made in this act for ramps in public buildings, adaptation of toilets for wheelchair users, Braille symbols and auditory signals in elevators,” said Bardalai.
Restaurants, too, should make provisions for the disabled, especially as the trend of eating out has become popular among the people. “Space should be provided at the tables for people on wheelchairs,” said Raj Bora, a wheelchair-user.
Though there are several shopping malls coming up in the city, none of them are disabled-friendly. The community centres should also have toilets that can be used by the disabled.
“There are many public conveniences coming up in the city. We will speak to the district administration to make some of them disabled-friendly,” said Arman Ali, an entrepreneur with locomotor disability.