Ummulkhair M’s parents did everything to make her self-sufficient and independent. Born with cerebral palsy, nothing could deter her from becoming a lawyer. Today, she works as a coordinator at a rights-based organisation, that emphasises creating awareness in the community on issues related to disability and advocating rights for persons with disabilities, since 1985. But is she able to fight her own battles?
Access to public places
“I visit a library near my house every day on my wheelchair. It’s really difficult to commute on the road since the pathways aren’t accessible to us. People park their vehicles on the footpath, some dump construction materials like sand and pebbles and block it. The pavements are bumpy at some places. Even if we have motorised wheelchairs, our walks aren’t smooth on the road,” explains Ummul as she walks us on the roads of Kotturpuram where she resides.
Every time Ummul has to step out of her home, the first thought that occurs to her is, ‘toilet’. “It is one of the major problems, be it public transport or any government building that we have to visit, or have to go to attend functions. There have been times when I had to wear a diaper because I couldn’t use railway toilets as they don’t have hand bars for support. Moreover, the toilets are not disabled-friendly. Despite being financially independent today, I still require a helper when I need to go to a grocery store or a beauty parlour. Accessing ATM kiosks is even more difficult as most of them do not have any ramps.
Secondly, they are placed too high for us to enable access from a wheelchair. I have to share my ATM pin with a stranger to withdraw money says Ummel.
A quick recap of the stadium incident that created a buzz in the city
On May 7, an Assistant Professor of Medical & Psychiatric Social Work at Loyola College and disability rights activist, Deepak Nathan
went to the MA Chidambaram Stadium to watch an IPL match for the first time in his life. His brother-in-law arranged a ticket for him and his wife as Deepak had no idea how to get it done. “First, I
didn’t get to park anywhere, I had to take several rounds of the stadium amidst the crowd and when I managed to reach entry gate No. 13, I was not allowed to park there either. I was told by the cops that I had taken the wrong route. I also got yelled at by the assistant commissioner, sitting in the police jeep, asking me to leave the premises. That’s when I decided to get out of my car to explain my situation upon which I was pushed by him; he then mocked me asking what is he supposed to do with my disability. I don’t think I will ever dare to step inside the stadium again to watch a match,” shares Deepak. PS Raman, senior vice president, Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA) says that they have allotted designated stand exclusively for differently abled people. “There are special arrangements to make things easier for differently-abled people to use the stands. This particular incident had nothing to do with our facility, but with the appointed police staff and it was over a
parking issue. The confusion and misunderstanding also could have happened because he drove himself there — this is unusual. We feel sad that something like has made him take a stance of never stepping inside this stadium. If something happens in a cinema theatre, people don’t stop going there, do they? Then why make the stadium an exception? We can only apologise for whatever happened to him and we really hope he comes back to the stadium to watch another match. We will try our best to ensure that he enjoys it.” However, Commissioner of Police, Dr AK Viswanathan, says that arrangements are in place but, “The point is people don’t check in advance and they reach at the last minute. They don’t seem to know there is a special entry gate only for them.”
Deputy Commissioner, Triplicane, Suguna Singh G says that they always try to help people during a match and he claims that before the last league match he had personally helped eight disabled people to sit and watch the match along with their caretakers. “Deepak came to the stadium with a valid ticket, but unfortunately he didn’t get the one which has to be provided for the person with disability, which would have made things much easier. Unfortunately, everything happened just 30 minutes before the match was going to start and it wasn’t possible for us to facilitate just one single car — it would also have choked the entire bandobast. We actually wanted to wait for some more time to give him the access, but somehow it didn’t happen. We’ll try our best to help every single person next time.”
Are we really inclusive yet?
Deepak says that any idea of inclusiveness should make people’s life easier and not complicated. “Why do we need to follow so many complicated procedures to access every single public facility and why are things so much easier for everybody else?
Accessibility is not just a problem for the differently abled — it’s so for senior citizens, too. Three years ago, when I wanted to buy a sari for my wife on our first wedding anniversary, I couldn’t find a single place in T Nagar where I could park my vehicle and go into a store. In 2013, our former CM Jayalalithaa ruled that those multi-storeyed buildings must be made disabled friendly by including certain amenities like ramps, disabled-friendly parking, bathrooms, lifts, and so on… I don’t see that any of it has been implemented till date. The government of India had launched Accessible India Campaign or Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan, but we don’t see anything other than just a handful of awareness programmes. If we wish to eat out or go to the beach or to a movie, we need to think twice. In the malls, we are often asked to park far away from the lifts and not all the floors
are accessible to us,” complaints Deepak.
Para sports-a neglected zone?
G Vijay Sarathy, international para-sports player who has represented the country in 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, 2010 Asian Games finals in China and in February 2019 won a silver and bronze in shot put and discus throw in Sharjah at the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports World Games, says there aren’t good facilities for the differently abled when it comes to sports. “The ground facility for para athletes like us isn’t good across the state. In stadiums, there are no toilets for us, no storerooms, and no separate coaches either. We don’t get any concession or facilities in terms of training and jobs, when compared to the rest of the athletes.
It’s discouraging that even after representing the country in international sporting events, I haven’t even received any recognition from the govt, let alone get a govt job. Only if we have facilities at the grassroots level, will we be able to shine at bigger platforms,” laments Vijay, who works at Saint Britto’s College as office-staff and graphic-designer.
What the law says?
Ministry of Law And Justice (India) on December 28, 2016, had issued The Rights Of Persons With Disabilities, 2016, to give effect to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006). Among several points like inclusiveness and rights to education, health and living, the accessibility point clearly says: “The Central Government shall take suitable measures to provide: facilities for persons with disabilities at bus stops, railway stations and airports conforming to the accessibility standards relating to parking spaces, toilets, ticketing counters and ticketing machines; access to all modes of transport that conform to the design standards, including retrofitting old modes of transport, wherever technically feasible and safe for persons with disabilities, economically viable and without entailing major structural changes in design; accessible roads to address mobility necessary for persons with disabilities. The government shall also develop schemes programmes to promote the personal mobility of persons with disabilities at an affordable cost to provide for: incentives and concessions; retrofitting of vehicles and personal mobility assistance.
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