Accessibility

Accessibility and Assistive Devices

Subhash Chandra Vashishth is an advocate with a specialization in disability rights. He actively champions the cause of disabled citizens by maintaining www.disabilityrightsIndia.com, a comprehensive repository of case laws. Through his legal expertise, Mr. Vashishth litigates in various courts across India, tirelessly working to restore and uphold the rights of individuals with disabilities.

He emphasizes the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities in everyday life, focusing on the need for physical accessibility in homes, public spaces and transportation. The discussion includes practical suggestions for citizens to promote accessibility while highlighting the legal framework under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016. Mr. Vashishth advocates for Universal Design to address the diverse needs of different kinds of people and enhance overall quality of life.

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Transcript

Let’s look at the life of an average person with a disability living in his home.

The moment he has to come out, even within home, how many homes are accessible?

How many homes have accessible toilets?

How many homes have, uh, are on ground floor?

Or if they’re on the upper floor, are they connected with the lift?

Or if there are stairs, are there handrails on both sides?

Definitely any building which is beyond the ground floor will become inaccessible to wheelchair users if it does not have a lift.

So the government guidelines, earlier, that up to three floors the lifts may not be needed, but the newer guidelines, the current guidelines indicates and mandates that any building or any public building would need to be accessible whether it is two floors or three floors.

Irrespective of the number of floors, every public place and public building need to be accessible.

So from this perspective, the moment the person comes out of the home, are there, is there a, are there walkable sidewalks?

Can the wheelchair ply on it?

Are they continuous or there are barriers?

Are there curb ramps available at each intersection?

Are there appropriate street crossings where there are request crossings so that people can cross at grade?

So these are everyday challenges that people face.

Can they access a park or are there revolving gates where the wheelchair gets stuck?

Or are there other public facilities for instance, if I want to go and do a morning jog or go to a gymnasium, are the gymnasiums accessible?

See, these all are public places.

When I want to visit a doctor or I want to undertake a lab test, are the labs accessible?

People going for ultrasound holding the bladder full and finding inaccessible washrooms, imagine their condition.

And I think there are so many people who are on dialysis, imagine their condition because hospitals lack accessibility to some extent.

See the larger challenge is that the built environment has been designed from the perspective of people who are able-bodied: 6 ft high, have two functional hands, have eyes, have legs with which they can jump, hop, run around, they can see, they can hear, they can speak their needs, but not all people fit into this frame.

What happens, so those who fit into this frame, they get in and remaining all get stuck out.

And here these barriers create the discrimination against people with disabilities and because of this they are not able to mainstream, they are not able to enjoy the services, they’re not able to contribute to the economy when they step out.

This is, somewhere, a huge challenging task.

We as designers, we as people running the organizations, we as common citizens, we need to constantly be aware that accessibility is something which is very basic, not just for persons with disabilities.

I always say that for persons with disabilities, it makes things possible, while for others it definitely improves the quality of life.

A lift definitely improves the quality of life of not just persons with disabilities, an elder, or somebody who just has a fractured leg or somebody who is not feeling well.

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So, accessibility for whom?

Is it for persons with disabilities or is it for everybody else, or for all of us?

When we look around, we don’t find many persons with disabilities in public places.

Look at the bus queue shelters, look at the busses, look at parks, look at stadiums or cinema halls.

Do you find sufficient numbers?

Precisely the question.

They are not seen there because the places are inaccessible.

It’s not that a person with disability doesn’t want to go and watch a movie, or doesn't want to, or is not very health conscious or doesn’t want to visit a park, the precise reason is that many of these places were not built according to needs or keeping accessibility in mind.

Persons who have become older, they also mimic a lot of needs of persons with disabilities.

For instance, there might be hearing loss, there might be physical debility, there might be walking, mobility challenges, there might be speaking challenges.

So eventually an environment which is accessible benefits everyone.

Okay. How are we all set to play a role in achieving this accessibility?

Let’s look at different environments.

If it is a workplace and if you own the workplace, then the law mandates that every establishment shall maintain and shall provide accessibility for their employees.

Similarly if it’s a public place, the law mandates that every public place, public building shall be accessible, irrespective of the fact whether the building is privately owned or owned by the government.

The only condition is that the building is open to public.

So therefore, from that perspective, every hospital, every temple, every religious place uh is a public place, is a public building and therefore needs to meet the mandate of accessibility.

As an individual who is not maintaining a building, who is not a district magistrate, who’s not running an employment service, what can I do? you may have this question.

Each one of us has a role to play.

I may, I mean, as a citizen, you can promise yourself that you should not drive your bike or a scooter or cycle on the pedestrian sidewalks, should not misuse the curb cuts that are provided for persons with disabilities or for continued access.

Do not block them, do not park your car on the curb access.

Similarly, whenever there are reserved parkings, do not go and block them or do not go and misuse them if you’re not a person with a disability.

When using lifts or using accessible services, give preference to people who need them.

We have seen common examples, whenever there is a lift, a person with disability is waiting outside and all others are getting in and leaving no space for that person.

You need to see who needs it first.

You may have seen preferred seats in public transportation, now these seats are uh, to be given to such preferred people if you are using it and if you find a person who has a better need and who needs it more than you, you please vacate.

That, as an individual, definitely we can do.

Other thing that we can do is, if you find, as a concerned citizen, any accessible place which is not maintained or accessibility which is damaged or somebody is blocking and encroaching that accessibility, you can immediately complain, approach, alert the concerned authorities.

For instance, if a car is parked and blocking the accessible pathway, please tweet to the Delhi Traffic police.

Since I’m in Delhi, I’m talking of Delhi traffic police but definitely you can alert the monitoring authorities who can take immediate action.

State Commissioner of persons with disabilities is one such authority where you can definitely approach saying this area is inaccessible or accessibility has been breached or is not being maintained properly.

Accessible toilets that are created should always be in serviceable condition.

Please don’t use it if you don’t need it, it should be left for persons with disabilities.

Other thing that we can do is ensuring that sufficient width on the walkway is maintained for persons with…for general users including persons with disabilities.

Now for any person with a disability I need at least 1 meter space to pass through.

If there is an encroachment, if there is a vendor who’s acquiring that space, then probably the person can’t pass.

If there is, if you’ve parked your car onto that, the person can’t pass, the person will be forced to walk on the road.

Similarly, for maintenance agencies, it’s important that they do not leave the main holes open.

Whenever there are tactile pavers that are installed for alerting or for guiding persons with vision impairments, please do not block them, please do not encroach on them.

That is something probably we all can together do.

This is a collective effort that definitely needs to be done.

You can also practice accessibility within your home.

So we all have our family members who may need, one or the other day, accessibility.

In our life, at times, we definitely need accessibility.

We have grandparents at home, we have younger children at home and disability is something which is…I would say ability or able-body is something very temporary in nature.

Any time, any given fraction of second, you can come on to the other side, you can be a person with a disability.

And eventually that will become your need so therefore from our family itself, let’s think of creating inclusive family and inclusive family infrastructure.

Internationally, if you look at other countries, there’s a concept called ‘Aging in Place’, which means a person who has taken birth in a family, in a house, he continues to grow and he ages and till end of his life he is able to stay in that home.

So that’s a concept that probably has become talk of the town there because the moment people become elderly they are being sent to institutions.

So they started talking about, no we need to age in place, we need to make our homes accessible.

I think for us, we as Indians, in India we are a caring society, we have joint family systems, we have a lot of values attached to the family as an institution.

So, we all can practice accessibility by incorporating these accessibility features within our homes.

Can we have at least one accessible toilet attached to your drawing room?

So that you have visitability also, any visitor who has a disability, any senior person who is your relative or a person visiting your house can easily visit your place without any stress of inaccessibility.

Any family member within your house can use that facility.

Second, what you can do is, can we ensure each door in our home is at least 1 meter wide?

That makes it accessible not only for persons with disabilities or senior citizens or people using crutches or walkers but also it’s easier for housewives, say the washing machine can easily go, your sofa can easily go, your bed can easily go if the doors are wider, at the same time.

So, with these little-little changes that we can bring, in accessibility, can improve lives of, in-general, everybody.

I can tell you so many discoveries or inventions which were meant for persons with disabilities, have gradually become so acceptable by all.

Look at remote controls, they were made for people who were immobile, who were not able to move.

And now, today, even our air-conditioners, our fans, our everything is remote controlled.

Even our cars are remote controlled.

Look at the typewriter, the qwerty keyboard, this was done for people who were deaf.

Today you find every phone has a qwerty keyboard and everybody is using it.

So similarly there are a host of other things that are meant and invented for people with disabilities, gradually became so common that we all started benefitting from it.

Lift, for that matter, today we all benefit from lift.

So accessibility actually brings in a quality of life.

Let’s look at accessibility as an enhancement in the quality of life of everyone rather than only looking at that this is an issue for a very small miniscule percentage of persons with disabilities, which may be 3%, as per the census.

Not really, because accessibility improves quality of life for all of us so therefore let’s embrace accessibility.

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So, there’s a major focus on accessibility in the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016.

The Act is focussing not just on physical accessibility but also accessibility of ICT, accessibility of transportation and in general it also talks about the time limitations within which accessibility needs to be provided by various service providers or owners of the built environment.

The Act also provides for, in section 40, it also provides for mechanisms to create standards or develop standards in consultation with the Chief Commissioner for persons with disabilities and the concerned ministry.

And these standards would then eventually be implemented through a domain regulator within a time bound manner.

Within the Act there are rules.

So rule 15 of the RPWD (Rights of Persons with Disabilities) Act provides for what standards would be followed for the built environment accessibility or what standards would be followed for Transportation or, say, bus accessibility.

Similarly, there are standards for website access and ICT access.

Currently, if you, if you…

In 2015, much before the current act came into being, the Government of India, under the leadership of the Honorable Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had launched the Accessible India Campaign.

I’m sure you must have heard about it.

So, with this campaign access has gone to every street.

Now there is a lot of awareness through this campaign.

This campaign had several verticals, built environment, airport accessibility, offices, government offices accessibility, railway stations accessibility, number of Sign Language interpreters that are available in public domains, website accessibility, the host of different domains.

There were targets set and these targets were set to achieve within a time-bound manner.

So, we may not have achieved all the targets but then the larger service that this campaign has done is that there is a lot of awareness among different stakeholders about accessibility.

So this is on this front.

What is happening, building you would know is typically a state subject under the Constitutional framework, so while at the central level the law provides for making of guidelines and rules on accessibility, the implementation of the same eventually has to be led and…by different state governments as well, India being a federal structure and building being a subject on the state list within the constitutional framework.

The states also will have to take a lead on implementing the provisions of the Accessible India Campaign.

So while the honorable Prime Minister had launched on 3rd of december 2015 the very famous Accessible India campaign, and subsequently the law also has come into being which provides for a framework, and also the time limits within which the services need to be made accessible and the built environment need to be made accessible.

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We are now gradually moving towards Universal Design and Universal Design means that you’re not segregating one person on the basis of disability whereas you’re talking of inclusion of all.

So that you’re providing options for each user.

For instance, when we use a Delhi Metro, or a metro station, you have several options, you have staircases with handrails, you have ramps, you also have lifts, whichever suits a certain person, they can use that option so you are not forced to use a certain option which is not very suitable to you.

So that’s accessibility.

Accessibility is also providing choices to people.

Some people with disabilities may prefer a shorter step rather than a longer ramp.

So therefore in addition to ramps we also need to have handrails on the staircases on both sides.

There are younger people, there are short statured people, a second level handrail can enhance access to that person who is short statured.

So these small-small…addressing these diversities also make a lot of impact.

Look at the diversity that exists around us.

Lefthand users…

When you see how we design, we design the entire environment for right-hand users whereas accessibility and the Universal Design mandates that we address the needs of both right-hand users as well as people who prefer left hands.

So if we are open to and we are aware about the needs, specific needs of different people, then probably we can address that within our design.

So as a public servant or as somebody who is, say, the district magistrate of a district, what is my role?

My role is to ensure that not just my office but the entire offices or public buildings within my districts are accessible to diversity of people as well as the entire infrastructure within my district whether whether it is bus transport, whether it is pedestrian sidewalks, whether it is street-crossing, whether it is schools, whether it is PSEs or hospitals or whether it is all other public or community spaces, the banquet halls where the marriages happen or function happens, all these need to ensure accessibility so that there is commingling, a commingling of fellow human beings possible and that’s what the aim of the Disability Act, which is larger inclusion of persons with disabilities in the social harmony.

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