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An Analytical Examine on Accessibility for Individuals with incapacity in India

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Author(s): Riya Sinha | Wagisha | Ankita Kar | Subhani D Krishnan

INTRODUCTION

In India, disability has been treated as a taboo, as something to be ashamed of for a long time. In the earlier times, it was thought to mean that the person is impure or that he is being punished for something that he had done in a previous life. But disability is not a curse, it is not something that a person should feel ashamed of.

In the present, the view on disability is not as severe and people do treat disabled people with more compassion. But there is still a bias against persons with disabilities, and they are still discriminated against. Although people feel sorry for disabled persons, they do nothing to ensure that they have a smoother life.

People have a right to movement, but persons with disability are not able to access many places due to their disability and there are no easy access features. Many schools, colleges and other buildings do not have ramps for wheelchairs, or disability-friendly toilets or trained professionals to help them or writings in braille, and other such requirements are not fulfilled.

This causes a lot of trouble and distress for persons with disabilities since they become restricted from going to these places due to lack of accessibility. This is a major concern and it has arisen mainly due to the fact that the implementation of the laws in place has not been done in all areas properly. For persons with disability to get equal opportunities and to be able to rise to the same level as everyone, a very important component is being able to access different places.

RESEARCH OBJECTIVES

The objective of the research paper is to understand what the stand of India is, what the laws are with respect to accessibility for persons with disabilities, and to what extent these laws have been implemented in schools and colleges. The paper also analyses what affirmative steps have been taken so far, and gives suggestions regarding possible improvement of the situation.

RESEARCH QUESTIONS

  1. What is the stand of India in terms of accessibility for persons with a disability?
  2. To what extent was India able to implement it in schools and colleges?
  3. What are the affirmative steps taken so far?
  4. What can be the possible solution for improving the situation in India?

RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

The research for the paper is based mainly on secondary sources like articles, books and online sources. Quantitative and qualitative methods of research have been used. Facts, judgements, interpretations, opinions, and ideas have been discussed based on articles and books.

The paper takes a look at what the legal stand of India is when it comes to providing accessibility for persons with disabilities, and to what extent this has been implemented in schools and colleges. It also analyses the affirmative steps taken so far, and gives recommendations for the improvement of the situation. This is done by preparing a hypothesis and research questions, then evaluating the laws in place and their implementation by comparison.

WHAT IS THE STAND OF INDIA IN TERMS OF ACCESSIBILITY FOR PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES?

The number of disabled people in India today is more than 80 million, all caused due to various reasons such as accidents, age, or medical reasons. The legislative, being aware of this fact, has made laws to improve the condition, the main Act being the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.

This Act specifically looks at improving the accessibility in different areas for persons with disability, knowing how important an issue it is. It deals with the ease of access to public and private buildings, workplaces, public utilities, medical services, law enforcement agencies and transport facilities, among various others.

As part of India’s recent start-up initiative, the government is working towards the creation of smart cities, which aims to include persons with disabilities in all areas. The objectives of the Smart City Mission are to ensure access to pathways, junctions, footpath, bus shelters, crossing and public transportation, to create accessible websites and portals as platforms for community engagement, to create accessible digital technology for websites, and to design accessible parks, buildings, playgrounds, schools, colleges, hospitals, and toilets, among others.

The “Accessible India” campaign was started by Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi in 2015 with the objective of making it convenient for persons with disabilities to access administrative buildings and transport facilities, among many others.

The campaign has been launched in several Indian states and they take inspiration from other countries and their technologies such as Microsoft’s “Smart Cities for All Toolkit” that contains four tools to help smart cities worldwide to focus on ICT accessibility and the digital accessibility of persons with disabilities an older persons.

A study in East Delhi by two ethnographic researches, Arnab Bose and Seema Sharma, along with their students, revealed that there are many fundamental flaws for designing, such as the height of the bus stands being more than the height of the buses, or top of wheelchair access ramps being blocked by advertisement boards, etc. These might seem like minor issues but they have not been solved since they have not been adequately identified, and appropriate funding has not been given.

Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act of 1995, under Sections 44, 45 and 46 categorically provides for non-discrimination in transport, non-discrimination on the road and non-discrimination in built environment respectively.

United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), to which India is a signatory, under Article 9 casts obligations on the Government for ensuring to persons with disability accessibility to information, transportation, physical environment, communication technology and accessibility to services as well as emergency services.

The laws in India are favourable towards accessibility, and they do aim towards it, but the implementation of these laws has been subpar and the laws have not been backed with adequate research or funding. Unless this is changed, the laws cannot be utilised to their full potential and the situation cannot change.

ASSESSMENT OF ACCESSIBILITY IN EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS

What was needed?

As per the standards prescribed by the ministry of Urban Development issued in February, 2016, every teaching, administrative and common areas need to be accessible to the PwDs. For this the government has prescribed various facilities like availability of wheelchairs, ramps/lifts for steep classrooms, unisex washroom (at least one) at each floor in the administrative and residential areas, accessible library facilities, accessible sports room, accessible walks and paths etc.[1]

Accessibility of open book stacks, the special room should be there for visual and hearing impaired students who require special assistance in terms of reading.[2] 

There should be accessibility for the wheelchair users at least one washroom, one changing room and one shower.[3]

Smooth functioning faucets/ taps without much pressure on wrists (in case of manual faucets/taps), proper handles at both the sides should be there. For visually impaired students, signages with proper colour contrasts should be there. The opening door should be two-way opening type.[4]

Lift landings, floor level landing staircases and at major junctions, there must be proper ceiling hung information and such information should be in the proper standard of signages. Signage should be made in accordance with the colour contrast; character, content and layout; Pictograms and accessibility symbols; positioning; viewing distance; embossed letters with brailles.[5]

Paths should consist of hard, smooth and levelled surface with proper slopes. Every staircase should have adjacent ramps with it which should not be of irregular surfaces instead a perfect balance should be maintained. 

To what extent was accessibility found?

As per the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act of 2009, every school should provide a barrier-free access.[6] Accordingly, MHRD has set a target in 2017 for all states and UTs to achieve barrier free access by March, 2020.[7] As per the reply of MHRD on the steps taken so far to achieve this goal, it was stated that there is a provision for barrier free access for children with special needs vide Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA).[8]

As per the data revealed by the unified District Information System for Education, in the year 2015-16, about 61.83% of elementary schools are now equipped with ramps while 23.08%  have accessibility friendly toilets.[9] Moreover, 1080 Kendriya Vidyalayas out of  1180 Kendriya Vidyalayas have ramp up to ground level and 979 are equipped with special toilet facilities.[10]

Furthermore, MHRD vide its scheme of Inclusive Education for Disabled at Secondary Stage has sought to provide central assistance for students which is around 3000/- per child per annum along with other special supports like special teachers availing, equipping resource rooms, making barrier free schools, parents’, administrators’ and educationists’  special orientations in this regard.[11]

However, the percentage share of schools with ramp facility has a different story to tell. As per the DISE, NUEPA data of 2014-15, the percentage share for primary school category decreased from 84.09% in 2013-14 to 78.53% in 2014-15.[12] Similarly, this decline can be seen in upper primary as well where it declined from 82.60% (2013-14) to 81.01% (2014-15) while in elementary, it went from 82.33%(2013-14) to 77.40% (2014-15).[13] In the secondary and higher secondary level, it decreased by 5.98% and 8.74% respectively.[14]

The state analysis gives a conclusion that seven states have 90% of schools at the elementary level with ramp facilities whereby Delhi has 100% and Sikkim has the lowest in this regard i.e., 26.4%.[15] States and UTs like Mizoram, Telangana and Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Andhra Pradesh have about 50-55% of this facility. Hence, more attention is required.[16]

At the secondary level, states like Assam, Goa, Meghalaya and Sikkim depict less than 40% facility in this regard while Dadra and Nagar Haveli has the lowest i.e., 22.2%.[17] Mizoram has only 8% of schools with such facility at higher secondary level while Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Sikkim and Telangana has the achievement of only 20-30% in this regard.[18]

In terms of library facilities, government schools in primary have 84%, 89% in upper primary, 89% for secondary and 91% for higher secondary. [19]Approx. 81.79% primary, 86.48% upper primary, 82.06% elementary, 90.36% Secondary and 92.37% of total schools had library facility in 2014-15.[20]

About 13% government primary, 37% upper govt. primary, 60% secondary and 70% of higher secondary government schools had computer facilities in 2014-15.[21] About 22.34% primary, 46.33% upper primary, 25.23% elementary, 66.82% secondary and 71.39% higher secondary schools across India were equipped with computer facility in 2014-15.[22] Hence a long way still needs to be covered. 

UGC also has taken many affirmative steps to encourage accessibility in colleges and higher education. Campaigns like Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan; mandates like barrier free structure for AICTE approved institutions; mandates of having ramps, rails, and special toilets in higher institutions are some of the noteworthy steps of UGC in this regard.[23]

Universities and institutes like TISS, Calcutta University, Delhi University, JNU, Hyderabad University, Jadhavpur University and Pune University has taken many technologically assistive approaches in this regard like technology labs with scanners, screen magnifiers, Braille printers and screen readers.[24] However, apart from these universities, no other university or institute has taken such initiatives.

Not even 1% of 789 universities, 37,204 colleges and 11,443 higher education institutions of India have this accessibility.[25] As per the statistics of forum for disabled students, a very little improvement has been made since 1995 when government reserved 4% seats for PwDs.[26] Despite of RTE Act, 2009, not even 0.1% of 2.68 crore PwD population of India are enrolled in schools and this figure drops when this population moves from secondary to higher education to a mere 0.01%.[27]

ACCESSIBILITY AUDIT REPORT

BUILDING NAME- Girls Hostel-2, Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad (entrance area)

DATE OF AUDIT-04/10/2019

AUDIT DONE BY- Centre for Rights of Differently Abled, Research Team-3

MAIN ENTRANCE YES NO NOT APPLICABLE REMARKS
Is the main entrance of the building accessible? Yes _____ _____ It is made keeping in view the needs of differently abled as well
 Are there any steps at the entrance? Yes _____ ______ Yes there are both steps and ramps at the entrance
Do the steps have a handrail? ____ No _____ ____
Are there handrails on both the sides? ____ No ____ Since the ramp is connected to only one side of the entrance and that too ends after a point.
Is there a ramp? Yes ______ ________ Ramp is made keeping in mind the needs of PwDs.
Does the ramp have a railing? _____ No ____ ____
Are there handrails on both the sides? ____ No _____ Handrail is absent.
Is the clear door width at least 1000 mm? Yes ______ ______ It is well built for the PwDs as well.
Can the entrance door be operated independently? Yes ____ ____ They can be operated independently but nowadays, one side door is jammed so there is an issue, however, there are two entrances on the same side so, this problem can be adjusted.
Is the height of the door handle between 800 mm and 1000 mm? Yes _____ _____  
Does the accessible entrance permit access to an elevator? ______ No _______ There is no elevator at the entrance point, however, there are two lifts after passing the reception area.
Is the accessible entrance clearly identifiable? Yes _____ _____  
Is the landing surface non slippery? ____ No ___ The landing surface becomes more slippery in terms of rain and hence is the only barrier in whole building
RAMPS YES NO NOT APPLICABLE REMARKS
Is there a ramp next to the stairs? Yes ___ ___ __
Is the location of the ramp clearly identifiable? Yes ____ ____ __
Is the ramp gradient no steeper than 1:12? Yes _____ ____ ___
Is there a landing of at least 1500 mm x 1500mm, at 9m intervals provided? Yes _____ ____ _____
Is there a landing at every change in direction? ___ No ____ The landing is meant for leading the way to the entrance.
Is there landing at the top and bottom of every ramp? Yes ____ _____ Ramp landing in this regard is the best.
Is the minimum width of the ramp 1500 mm? Yes _____ ____ It is properly accessible
Are there continuous handrails, on both sides, at a height between 760 mm – 900 mm? _____ No ____ Handrail is absent.
Is the surface of the ramp nonslip? ___ No ___ Though it is non slippery but to some extent walls do support the accessibility but still this ramp can’t be considered accessibility friendly due to the absence of handrail and continuous wall support
Is there an edge protection on both sides of the ramp? ____ No __ Though not at both sides, but it is from one side but is not regular/continuous. After a point, the edge protection which is in the form of the wall ends hence is not barrier-free
RECEPTION & INFORMATION COUNTERS YES NO NOT APPLICABLE REMARKS
Are the counters easily indefinable? Yes ___ ____ They are well equipped with signages with proper colour contrasts but lack Braille system. However, the reception counter lacks reception tables, are equipped with class room tables and lack proper arrangement of chairs.
Is the counter at two height? ____ _____ N.A. ____
Is a part of the counter lowered to accessible height of 800 mm? Yes _____ _____ They are positioned in the accessible friendly manner.
Is a loop induction unit installed at the counter? ____ _____ N.A. ____
Are there tactile pictographic maps of the building near the counter? ______ No ____ The counter still lacks it and even if there are signages they are positioned at much higher place hence not favorable for visually impaired students.
Is the counter well illuminated? Yes ____ ___ Proper lighting arrangements are made
DOORS YES NO NOT APPLICABLE REMARKS
Are there any automatic doors at the entrance? __ No ___ ____
Can the doors be operated without much effort? Yes ___ ___ They can be but nowadays one door is jammed.
Do automatic doors have sufficient long opening intervals? _____ ____ N.A. _____
Are push buttons for automatic doors located at a maximum height of 1m? ___ _____ N.A. _____
Is there sufficient space beside the latch side of the doors (450- 600mm)? Yes ____ ______ _______
Are accessible door placed adjacent to the revolving doors and turnstiles? ______ _______ N.A. Doors are common for all the students
Are glazed doors marked with a colour band at eye level? _____ No _____ There is no such arrangement
For double leaf doors, is the width of one of the leaves at least 1m? Yes _____ ____ ____
Do doors fitted with spring closers have an extra pull handle? ___ No ___ There are single pull handles on both the leaves of the door.
Is manual door accessories/hardware (handle, lock pull etc.) lower than 800mm? Yes ____ _____ All the accessories except the latch are accessible for all the students, students on wheelchairs can also access it.

AFFIRMATIVE STEPS TAKEN SO FAR

2.21% of the entire population living in India falls under the ambit of the disabled population.[28] Undoubtedly, there have been a few initiatives taken by the central and state governments in order to improve the condition of this very integral fragment of our population as well. Along with making public places more accessible for them with the help of ramps and disabled-friendly washrooms, there have more steps taken in the recent past. The airports in the country have started taking the entire scene very seriously, since it can be seen that with better technology emerging, the airport authorities have enhanced the wheelchair models, along with the addition of a full-time help for the disabled population travelling on airplanes. A national portal has been created[29] as an initiative on behalf of the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (Divyangjan) under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India. This site also allows a discussion forum to be maintained regarding the rights and awareness regarding these people. The Ministry stated that,

“The department has proposed the plan in making accessible parking, ramps, toilets, automated fare collection gate, kiosks, lifts at every entry/exit, informational, directional signage, audio announcements etc. All existing public buildings/places must be made accessible within a period of five years. Therefore, we have taken an initiative under the Accessible India Campaign (AIC) to build a society which gives equal opportunities for the growth and development of PwDs so that they can lead productive, safe and dignified lives.”

These steps have been initiated in the capital of the country, steadily and are aimed to be implemented in a better manner in other states as well. Along with the several legislations that the parliament has come up with like the very recent Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, which empowers the disabled population of the country with reservation in education and government jobs, it has undoubtedly spread more awareness about their problems and rights.

In order to make these steps effective in reality, it is extremely important for even the public to abide by them and not look down upon the disabled population, instead help and assist them, whenever they can, and not pity them.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR IMPROVING THE SITUATION IN INDIA

  1. Regulations on encouraging accessibility for individuals with disabilities should be inclusive of consultation with disabled people in setting said policies and regulations.
  2. Advocacy for giving more importance to the systems and services. It requires commitment across all sectors and inbuilt new and existing legislation, standards, policies, strategies, and plans or doing so, it is necessary that the Government consults with disabled people as well.
  3. Invest in explicit projects and services for individuals who are specially-abled. Notwithstanding standard administrations, a few people with handicaps may expect access to specific measures, support services, or training and development. In this procedure, the inclusion of people with disabilities is of foremost significance as they give understanding into their issues and recommend solutions.
  4. MoSJE in collaboration with Commissioner’s offices, the Ministry of Urban Development and Employment, and the states should work towards cementing the minimum national standards of accessibility to which authorities could be held accountable and liable accordingly. This is an important requirement to satisfy under the new UN convention.
  5. Improvement of capability of healthcare providers and program managers. Human resource capacity can be improved through effective education, training, and recruitment. A review of the knowledge and competencies of staff in relevant areas can provide a starting point for developing appropriate measures to improve them. Manpower generation by promoting new courses and initiating degree and diploma courses like Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation will address the problem of shortage of manpower in long run.
  6. Focus on basic and primary education for disabled children as close to the main stream as possible.
  7. Increase public awareness and understanding of disability overall. Governments, institutions, and organizations should consider running social marketing campaigns that change attitudes on stigmatized issues such as HIV, mental illness, and leprosy. Involving the media is vital for the success of these campaigns and ensure that the dissemination of positive stories about persons with disabilities and their families.
  8. Research and statistics showing and representation of community-based data will help to plan and execute appropriate measures and techniques to address the problems of disabled persons.
  9. Public assets for the welfare of handicapped individuals ought to likewise be utilized to help inquire about their access priorities, the advancement of assistive apparatus for improving the versatility of disabled individuals, executing a cost-effective plan, and investigation of the effects and expenses of inability to give accessible conditions. While these are for the most part potential outcomes under the PWD Act, by and by there has been extremely restricted research regarding these matters.
  10. There ought to be methodical inclusion of disabled individuals and other civil society actors in observing of availability through prerequisites of access reviews(audits) on all noteworthy open infrastructural ventures, including social infrastructure.

CONCLUSION

The laws in India regarding accessibility have been well-intentionally curated, but enough background research has not gone into it to make it effective. The implementation of these laws has also not been seen through. India has come far in the fight for bringing equality to the disabled, but it still has a long way to go, to bring to fruition everything that it has promised the people of India.

[1] See Harmonised Guidelines and Space Standards for Barrier-Free Built Environment for persons with Disability and Elderly Persons, Government of India (Ministry of Urban Development), February, 2016, available on https://cpwd.gov.in/publication/harmonisedguidelinesdreleasedon23rdmarch2016.pdf , accessed 01/10/2019 at 11:28PM.

[2] Ibid. At page 23

[3] Id. At page 39

[4] Ibid.

[5] Id. At page 32

[6]Press Information Bureau, Disabled Friendly Infrastructure in Schools and Colleges,
Government of India, Ministry of Human Resource Development (4th January, 2018), available at https://pib.gov.in/newsite/printrelease.aspx?Relid=175311, last accessed 01/10/2019 at 11:34PM.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Id.

[9] Press Information Bureau, Disabled Friendly Infrastructure in Schools and Colleges,
Government of India, Ministry of Human Resource Development (4th January, 2018), available at https://pib.gov.in/newsite/printrelease.aspx?Relid=175311, last accessed 01/10/2019 at 11:34PM.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Id.

[12] Madhurima Bandopadhyay, Present Status of Infrastructure Facilities in Schools in India: From National and State Level Perspective, National University of Educational Planning and Administration at pp. 13, available at http://www.dise.in/Downloads/Paper_on_Physcial_Facilities_(Draft_prepared_for_CABE)_-_Report.pdf, last accessed 02/10/2019 at 8:30am.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Id.

[15] Supra note 12 at pp. 14

[16] Id.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid at pp. 16

[20] Ibid at pp.17

[21] Ibid at pp. 17

[22] Id.

[23] Supra Note 9

[24] Nimita Narasimhan, TECHNOLOGY FOR ACCESSIBILITY IN HIGHER EDUCATION, Conference on Enabling Access For Persons With Disabilities To Higher Education And Workplace Role Of Ict and Assistive Technologies at pp. 14, Available at https://cis-india.org/accessibility/technology-for-accessibility, last accessed on 02/10/2019 at 9:35PM.

[25] Editorials, Hindustan Times (16th November, 2017), With not even one per cent being disabled-friendly, colleges are difficult to access for many, Available at https://www.hindustantimes.com/editorials/with-not-even-one-per-cent-being-disabled-friendly-colleges-are-difficult-to-access-for-many/story-zfemcohiwqhxiavt1ynwwk.html, last accessed on 02/10/2019 at 9:45PM.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Census report, 2011.

[29] disablityaffairs.gov.in

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