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Access equals ability - an Indian perspective

‘Stemming the Crime Wave: The Role of Law and Society’

Our this month’s debate is ‘Fast Tracking Access for the Disabled’ and last week we featured two writers who passionately advocated improved access for the disabled.

This week, we feature the Disability Organisations Joint Front’s views on this subject and an Indian campaigner for disabled persons’ rights and accessibility. These will give our policymakers much food for thought.

We also deemed it necessary to provide an example of how developed countries tackle the issue of accessibility. The UK’s accessibility guidelines are a prime example for an inclusive approach to building design.

With the Government deciding that all buildings should conform to accessability guidelines for the disabled by 2010, such ideas are likely to act a catalyst for expediting access for the disabled. Do send in your views on this issue to us before May 29, 2007 to the addresses mentioned below.

Next month, the Daily News Debate will focus on the ‘Stemming the Crime Wave: The Role of Law and Society’. Saturday’s murder of five members of the same family in Delgoda sent shockwaves even in a country which has seen a fair share of violence in a two-decades long internal conflict. The massacre was so savage and brutal that it rocked the very conscience of the Nation.

But this is by no means an isolated incident. Over the last few weeks, newspapers published horrid details of several other multiple murders. Open any newspaper, especially from the vernacular press, or switch on the news on TV and you will be assailed by news of murders, rape, child abuse, robbery, gang killings, kidnappings etc. The widespread use of illegal firearms is another worrying factor.

The country’s crime rate has gone up in an alarming manner. Many blame the law enforcement agencies for failing to address this issue. They do have a point. On the other hand, the law enforcement authorities are stretched to the limit and face manpower problems. It is also practically impossible to prevent every crime.

But this does not have to be so every time. The society does have a role to play in stemming the tide of crime. Public vigilance is vital to prevent not only acts of terror, but also crime.

It can be as simple as informing your local police station about any suspicious characters in the neighbourhood. Vigilance Committees, in vogue sometime back, can be re-activated. Schools and religious institutions should also help this effort by moulding good citizens.

What should really be done to contain the crime wave? What should be the role of law and society? Do send your views on this issue to Daily News Debate, Daily News, Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited, PO Box 1217, Colombo, or via e-mail to [email protected] Fax: Debate, 2343694 before June 15, 2007.

ACCESS-ABILITY: I walk up the ramp and ring the bell and am welcomed by Ubbu’s barking. Her mistress, Shivani Gupta, watches indulgently from her wheelchair. “I hope you are not afraid of dogs, Ubbu wants to know everyone who comes.”

Shivani’s home and office at Vasant Kunj, Delhi, is called AccessAbility. A fledgling four-month-old organisation, it champions the neglected aspect of infrastructure access for the disabled.

With short cropped hair and intense brown eyes, Shivani says, “We believe access equals ability. It is only when the disabled have access to infrastructure, can they be mainstreamed into society.”

Shivani was 22 and working as a guest relations officer with Maurya Sheraton, Delhi, when she decided to resign to pursue her Masters in Hotel Management at New Hampshire University in the U.K.

“It was February 14, 1991. I had a going-away party for my friends. Around 11.00 p.m., we went to drop a friend who had a night-shift.

On the Ridge Road, an animal ran before the car. My friend braked and the car spun out of control. I was thrown out and suffered spinal injury. I was in hospital for six months, long enough to realise I would never walk again.”

After six months of hospitalisation, she came back home to live with her grandparents in Faridabad. “Fifteen-sixteen years ago, people did not know much about spinal injury. After initial tears and “why me” depression, I didn’t dwell too much on it.

I think I was happy in achieving small things like my care giver taking me to the market. Everyday was a challenge and I was determined to take it forward.”

She laughs as she recalls how her grandmother would make her knead dough to exercise her hands. Shivani took up painting as therapy to keep herself occupied.

“I got in touch with Rajender Jauhar of the Family of Disabled and they bought some of my cards. I had two exhibitions and I got a lot of appreciation.”

Bolstered by her ability to move with a care giver, Shivani did a two-month peer counselling course in the U.K. and returned to begin working at the Indian Spinal Injury Center.

“I worked there for six years from 1996 to 2002. Then I attended the UN ESCAP Forum in Bangkok, a 15-day capsule to promote non-handicap environment for the disabled and the elderly.” The course was “the turning point in my life. I knew then that I wanted to work to provide accessibility to people with disability in a built up environment.”

Back in 2000, accessibility was not a much-talked-about issue. Shivani and Vikas Sharma, an occupational therapist, together wrote a manual “Planning a barrier-free environment” for the office of Chief Commissioner of Public Works Department.

Shivani says that it was a guideline for architects and builders to make the premises accessible to the disabled and elderly.

Towards her goal Shivani admits that she soon realised that the 15-day training at ESCAP was not enough. She joined the Rai University at Mathura Road to do a diploma in architecture technology. Using her diploma as a launch pad, Shivani wanted to do a two-year post-graduate degree from Reading University in U.K. but needed funding.

“I got a loan from the National Handicap Finance and Development Corporation. I needed double the amount because I had to take my care giver too. So I got two Tata scholarships. I also got sponsorship from Sminu Jindal Charitable Trust and the Neerja Bhanot cash prize of Rs. 150,000. In the U.K., I got the Snowdon Award, which helped me get through the two years. I tried getting work but I wasn’t successful.”

She returned home and got in touch with Vikas Sharma and his friend Sachin Verma, who had returned from Australia with a Masters in IT Technology and the three started AccessAbility.

“We are not an NGO but a registered firm and want to progress as a company because we look at accessability as a mainstream issue.” Already AccessAbility has streamlined its area of work. The first area they work in is infrastructure ability, where they carry out access audits and access appraisals.

They also train service providers like airlines, cinema halls so that their staff can interact sensitively with the disabled. They also work with HR departments making them sensitive and open to recruiting people with disability.

“The third component, which we are still working on, is employability or increased employment opportunity for people with disabilities. We also assist corporates develop their social responsibility programmes,” says Shivani.

Already AccessAbility is a consultant for the ITC WelcomGroup. Following an access audit of existing hotels, the group is helping with access appraisals for a new hotel in Bangalore. They are also developing a manual for hotels on the mandatory requirements for the disabled based on international standards.

Changing attitudes “Work is pouring in because attitudes are changing,” says Shivani, “and people are now more open to accepting the disabled. AccessAbility has already done a feasibility study of the 42-acre campus of the National Institute for Visually Handicapped (NIVH) in Dehra Dun.”

They have completed an access audit for Jamia Millia University. The Ministry of Social Justice has also shown interest in promoting sports and recreational activities for the disabled.

Shivani has to travel extensively and that, she admits, is a major problem. “I cannot stand up, so I have to be lifted. It is humiliating to be trussed up like a sack of potatoes. Lifting a person with disabilities is very simple and can be done with a little sensitivity.

The airlines are not aware of the requirements nor are they sensitive to our needs. We intend to take it up with the Ministry of Aviation and Railways. Thanks to a PIL, all aircraft will have an ambulift soon.”

Her partner, Sachin, says he has learnt much from Shivani. “She is like a horse with blinkers - eyes focused on her goals. Her commitment to her work is absolute.” Shivani laughs it off, “You cannot plough a field by turning it in your mind. Actions speak more than words.

I am lucky to be working with friends who think alike.”

With child-like glee, Shivani points to her laptop. “From next week, we will have a forum linked to our website mailto:[email protected] [email protected]

Anyone with disabilities or their family and friends can access it. They can leave their address, a query, share their stories, experiences, articles, or just be part of this new circle of friends. We welcome everyone. We hope that this networking will help us reach out to people and make our next goal of promoting employment for the disabled a possibility.”

AccessAbility can be contacted at D 8/8073 Vasant Kunj, New Delhi 110070. Ph: 91-11-26130862, 9868384739

(The Hindu, May 20, 2007)

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Accessibility - Sri Lankan perspective

AN OPPORTUNITY FOR CHANGE: Given the extent of the post-tsunami reconstruction across the country, now is a huge opportunity to make the country and public facilities accessible to disabled people and to many more.

Public buildings, transport, whole towns and streets, workplaces and hotels all have the opportunity to open up their services to a new market, to disabled people across Sri Lanka and to disabled tourists.

Architectural access should consider the width of doors, accessible bathrooms, railings, ramps, accessible curbs, textured paving for the visually impaired at street crossings and sound operated street crossings.

For guidelines in architectural access, documents compiled by Social Services and the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects are available from the Access for all office and the Urban Development Authority.

The costs of modifying buildings at the planning stage to make them accessible are minimal. It is far more cost-effective to modify the plans for a new building at the outset than to adapt an existing building retrospectively to make it accessible.

Access to the built environment will benefit a great number of people: the elderly, pregnant women, temporarily disabled people, and families with prams, as well as disabled people across Sri Lanka and disabled people abroad (it will attract a new market in tourism). Sri Lanka will be a model for access and inclusion.

If construction does not take access for disabled people into account, it sends a damaging message to disabled people as it is reinforcing their exclusion and condones the exclusion of disabled people.

Not only is this demoralising and disempowering for disabled people, the long term costs to the country will be high: if disabled people are unable to access places of education and places of work, then their contribution to the country and the economy is seriously limited. With an estimated 10% of the population disabled, this is a huge waste and a high cost.

(Disability Organisations Joint Front)

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Access for the Disabled - UK Guidelines

Access to buildings: Ensuring that all new buildings can be fully and easily used by all sections of the community is an important aspect of the Building Regulations.

Advice and encouragement is given to owners of existing buildings to improve access for disabled people.

One of the requirements of the regulations is that “reasonable provision shall be made to enable disabled people to gain access to relevant premises”. The regulations require: 1) Access to buildings and into buildings.

Suitable access should be provided from the edge of the site or disabled car spaces should be provided close to the entrance of the building.

Ramped or level access should be provided to the main entrances.

Consideration must be given to projections which are hazardous to those with sight impairments.

Aids to communication Requirements for induction loops in booking halls, ticket offices reception areas and auditoria.

Sanitary conveniences : WC compartments must be suitable for wheelchair users and ambulant disabled people.

Seating Provision of audience and spectator seating for wheelchair users.

The provision of tactile surfaces: These should be provided at the head of stairs and near changes in level to provide a warning to people with sight impairment.

Means of access to and into dwellings, Circulation within dwellings Accessible switches and socket outlets in dwellings, Passenger lifts and common stairs in flats, W.C. provision in dwellings.

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