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Opinion | In India, there are too many barriers for persons with disabilities

Lack of access to public transportation, along with social stigma, affects the ability of persons with disabilities to live their life to the fullest. Accessibility in India is often seen from the lens of an individual, the collective or societal approach is missing from the entire discourse.

December 11, 2022 / 01:26 PM IST
Unlike in countries like the UK, disability-friendly access on road and in transportation in India, including last-mile connectivity and separate tracks, has a long way to go. (Photo: Jakub Pabis via Unsplash)

Unlike in countries like the UK, disability-friendly access on road and in transportation in India, including last-mile connectivity and separate tracks, has a long way to go. (Photo: Jakub Pabis via Unsplash)

A recent report in a news publication asserted the increased accessibility for the "Divyangjan" (differently-abled person) in government infrastructures and public-utility services, ever since the 2015 launch of the "Accessible India" campaign. The reality, however, is more than meets the eye.

For a person with disabilities in India, the process of getting out of their house for everyday affairs entails multitude of considerations. The public transport in your city might not be accessible. If you live in a big city where some of the means of transport, for example the Metro service, is accessible, getting to the Metro station might still be a journey full of obstacles. Roads might be uneven or waterlogged. Footpaths in India rarely have tactile paths or curb cuts, making it difficult for persons across disability to navigate the city on their own. Manholes and dysfunctional zebra crossings make it a dangerous, even life-threatening, task. Private modes of transportation, such as a taxi service, might seem more feasible if you can afford them but then you might be refused service because the taxi driver does not want to carry the wheelchair in his car. If you happen to be a woman with disability, some form of harassment is always on the cards. At the end of the day, the inaccessible public transportation system forces many disabled people to be in constant state of jeopardy and many of them are forced to stay at home, alienated from public life.

According to the 76th round of National Sample Survey (NSS) conducted in 2018, among the persons with disabilities who were surveyed and had used public transport in the 365 days preceding the survey, 67.1 per cent of them had faced difficulties in accessing or using public transport. According to this survey, accessibility was equally bad in urban as well as rural areas and many of them faced obstacles despite having a caregiver with them. The survey, done by a government body, only emphasised how bad the state of public transportation is in this country.

The governments at the Centre and state levels often use little additions in accessibility infrastructure for tokenism and public relations. Accessibility, therefore, is never embedded in the ethos of good governance or public policy. For example, governments in most states continue to buy buses which are not accessible for wheelchair users. For tokenism, some accessible buses are bought, that too after disability rights organisations or individuals go to court. Trains have special bogies for persons with disabilities but the process of booking under the quota remains a painful process. Railway stations have lifts and escalators, yet they remain dysfunctional in many places across India.