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Sunday, 24 May 2015

Walk the friendly ramp

In Margarita with a Straw, Kalki Koechlin plays a rebellious young woman with cerebral palsy who leaves India to study
In Margarita with a Straw, Kalki Koechlin plays a rebellious young woman with cerebral palsy who leaves India to study


A recent campaign to provide friendlier public spaces for differently abled people addresses an issue that has been long overdue. Many supporters of the cause opine that it’s “us” who need to change.

After Margarita With A Straw, the movement for the rights of the differently abled received a shot in the arm, through ambassador Kalki Koechlin. Now, yet another innovative initiative is highlighting the lack of accessibility that characterises most of our public spaces, for those battling physical challenges.

The recently launched initiative — called the “Red Ramp Project” — is the brainchild of H&R Johnson and was conceptualised by Mumbai-based ad form Soho Square. It’s intent is to make India “access friendly for the disabled”, with which aim in mind, they have released a film that depicts three independent individuals with varying physical challenges, and their quest to visit a beach. Through the Red Ramp Project, the team is hoping to encourage the general public and policy makers to think seriously about providing disabled people access at public spaces all over the country.

“With more than 10 million physically challenged people in the country, most disabled people (moving in wheel chairs and crutches) live normal lives except when accessing basic public spaces like office buildings, railway stations, beaches, airports, malls, cinema halls, parks and religious spaces like temples, churches, mosques, gurudwaras, and so on. It is a worrying fact that only five percent of India is disabled-friendly.”

“...The movement will hopefully nudge every individual to contribute in some small capacity starting by looking at the environment around them with sensitised eyes,” read a note from the Red Ramp Project team.
Those who have been working in the field for a while now believe the problem is one of lack of awareness. Enable India, an NGO, has been working to promote the rights of the differently abled, over the past decade. Pranesh Nagri, the director of the organisation, says, “Accessibility is a necessity not just for people with some form of disability but also for people of old age, pregnant women, a child and so on. And if you are not providing appropriate facilities and infrastructure for them, then it is almost like refusing them their basic right of living. Unfortunately, Indian society at large has to become conscious about the accessibility issue.”

“We have a very long way to go,” agrees Dr Sam Taraporevala, who heads the department of Sociology and Anthropology at St. Xavier’s College and also directs the Xavier’s Resource Center for the Visually Challenged. Sam is visually impaired himself and has championed the rights of the visually impaired for several years now. “Although, since 1995, we have legislation empowering people with disabilities (Persons with Disabilities: Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation Act, 1995), the implementation in terms of public spaces set up and run by the government — as also private — hasn’t been up to the mark. It’s only now that the government is almost being arm-twisted by civil society groups and perhaps judicial activism, that they have started doing something,” he says, adding, “Luckily the metros and the monorails are both accessible, although to bring local trains to a standard is going to take far more imagination and commitment.”

Sam also points to the interim order that the Bombay High Court passed on May 20 — that the right to good roads is a fundamental right of citizens under right to life — and held that it was the state’s statutory obligation to provide good roads.

“Now, we have a very forward looking judgement from the Mumbai High Court, which can perhaps allow low-floor buses, but there’s a long way to go in terms of public spaces, things like restaurant, etc — most of them don’t even have a ramp, and a ramp is not just a slope, it has to meet gradient requirements. You go to many theatres — I’m not saying all — but most don’t have a slot to park a wheelchair. So when you talk about accessibility, the only good thing is that people have started talking about it,” he says.

However, there are some measures that are seeking to bring in a change at various levels. For instance, earlier this year, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation declared plans to develop a garden to help kids with autism and other such disabilities to sharpen their senses. Then there are people like Mihir Apte, an engineer who manufactures robotic instruments for the defence industry, who has built a robotic vehicle called Walk Assist.

“In one of our interactions with Defence Research Development Organisation, they came up with a requirement saying that they need something to rehabilitate soldiers suffering from paraplegic or quadriplegic impairments. That is how we started building our robotic equipment. The product is commercially available for Rs 2,15,000. Walking becomes simpler because the fear of falling is totally absent. They can also keep track of their own rehabilitation and analyse, which increases confidence,” he explains.

According to Mihir, however, what needs to change, is the dearth of compassion. He recollects an instance where a well-intentioned corporator, “was extremely sensitive towards differently-abled people and she had made the slopes at the edge of the footpath, meant for those on a wheelchair”. “But eventually, bikers kept using them, which raised a problem. So before anything, the mentality of the people needs to change,” he concludes.

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Source: Asian Age , 23rd May 2015 

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