Access equals ability - an Indian perspective
âStemming the Crime Wave: The Role of Law and Societyâ
Our this monthâs debate is âFast Tracking Access for the Disabledâ
and last week we featured two writers who passionately advocated
improved access for the disabled.
This week, we feature the Disability Organisations Joint Frontâs
views on this subject and an Indian campaigner for disabled personsâ
rights and accessibility. These will give our policymakers much food for
We also deemed it necessary to provide an example of how developed
countries tackle the issue of accessibility. The UKâs accessibility
guidelines are a prime example for an inclusive approach to building
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
Next month, the Daily News Debate will focus on the âStemming the
Crime Wave: The Role of Law and Societyâ. Saturdayâs 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 countryâs 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 Ubbuâs barking. Her mistress, Shivani Gupta, watches indulgently from
her wheelchair. âI hope you are not afraid of dogs, Ubbu wants to know
everyone who comes.â
Shivaniâs 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, âWe
believe access equals ability. It is only when the disabled have access
to infrastructure, can they be mainstreamed into society.â
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.
âIt 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.â
After six months of hospitalisation, she came back home to live with
her grandparents in Faridabad. âFifteen-sixteen years ago, people did
not know much about spinal injury. After initial tears and âwhy meâ
depression, I didnât 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.â
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
âI 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
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.
âI 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.â The course was âthe
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.â
Back in 2000, accessibility was not a much-talked-about issue.
Shivani and Vikas Sharma, an occupational therapist, together wrote a
manual âPlanning a barrier-free environmentâ 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.
âI 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 wasnât successful.â
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.
âWe are not an NGO but a registered firm and want to progress as a
company because we look at accessability as a mainstream issue.â Already
AccessAbility has streamlined its area of work. The first area they work
in is infrastructure ability, where they carry out access audits and
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
âThe 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,â
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 âWork is pouring in because attitudes are
changing,â says Shivani, âand 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.â
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. âI 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.â
Her partner, Sachin, says he has learnt much from Shivani. âShe is
like a horse with blinkers - eyes focused on her goals. Her commitment
to her work is absolute.â Shivani laughs it off, âYou 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.â
With child-like glee, Shivani points to her laptop. âFrom next week,
we will have a forum linked to our website mailto:[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
AccessAbility can be contacted at D 8/8073 Vasant Kunj, New Delhi
110070. Ph: 91-11-26130862, 9868384739
(The Hindu, May 20, 2007)
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
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
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
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
(Disability Organisations Joint Front)
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 âreasonable
provision shall be made to enable disabled people to gain access to
relevant premisesâ. The regulations require: 1) Access to buildings and
Suitable access should be provided from the edge of the site or
disabled car spaces should be provided close to the entrance of the
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
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.