Accessibility for all – a story from India

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My name is Sharada Devi. I am a native of Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) city in Kerala. I am a physically disabled person bound to a wheelchair.

Despite my physical challenges, I had my education in regular educational institutions along with the ‘normal’ students. I have passed all examinations with merit by hard work.

It had never been a smooth, easy ride for me and my family. My parents had struggled a lot to make me reach where I am now.

Academic achievement

I passed my Secondary and Higher Secondary Examinations with 90% and 86% marks respectively from Government Girls’ Higher Secondary School, Cotton Hill.

After that, I did both my graduation and post-graduation in English Language and Literature at the Government College for Women, Thiruvananthapuram. I passed BA and MA with a First Class and also completed M.Phil in English from the Institute of English, University of Kerala with an A Grade.

Meanwhile, I had also cleared the National Eligibility Test (NET) for Lectureship. Thus, I have proved myself eligible for becoming a lecturer according to the norms prescribed by the UGC.

Yet, I cannot display my teaching skills and further enhance them just because of lack of opportunities.

The need for equal opportunities

Of course, there are lots of opportunities out there. But being physically disabled, accessibility has become a hurdle for me.

Accessibility means equal opportunities. The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, states in Chapter VIII, Section 46, as follows: 

  • The appropriate Governments and the local authorities shall, within the limits of their economic capacity and development, provide for (a) Ramps in public buildings; (b) Braille symbols and auditory signals in elevators or lifts; (c) Ramps in hospitals, primary health centres and other medical care and rehabilitation institutions.

As per the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the countries must identify and eliminate obstacles and barriers and ensure that persons with disabilities can access their environment, transportation, public facilities and services, and information and communications technologies.

It is a clear fact that all these rules are not being implemented in India, especially in our God’s Own Country.

A positive, dynamic and interactive environment

It is imperative to make a positive, dynamic and interactive environment and attitude for the inclusive development and empowerment of persons with disabilities.

It should happen as a natural and spontaneous process. For this, there must be barrier-free and friendly accessibility for the persons with disabilities.

Accessibility means giving equal access to everyone. This includes accessibility to the physical environment, public transportation, information and communication, education etc. through universal assistive technologies.

If the disabled persons cannot access these facilities and services, their social inclusion would be impossible.

Difficulties in access

As a physically challenged person, I had faced and still face many challenges and obstacles in day-to-day life.

The lack of facilities like ramps and lifts in many places have posed difficulties for me and my parents.

Almost all the present buildings, including government offices and educational institutions, lack such facilities. Most of them had been constructed centuries back, some even during the reign of the British.

No steps have been taken so far to modify the buildings in such a way that the disabled people can also easily access them. Even the offices meant for the disabled function on the upper floors.

Lack of proper arrangements

I had much trouble when I went for registering my Aadhaar card. The entrance to the office was too narrow for my wheelchair to enter and besides that there were a few steps too. The wheelchair was somehow lifted with the help of many persons there.

A few years back, I had gone to attend a training course offered by the Reserve Bank of India for its Officer Grade B exam.

The training was provided for the physically challenged and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. There was no ramp and space for the wheelchair to enter the main entrance so that my parents had to lift me up to get inside.

I was the only physically challenged candidate there. I thought in dismay why the authorities did not make proper arrangements for the physically challenged candidates for whom the training was provided.

Perhaps, they might have thought that there would not be any such candidate! If not, why did they not make the necessary arrangements?

I was mentally and physically exhausted by the first day itself so that I discontinued the training. The majority of the colleges in Thiruvananthapuram are not accessible to wheelchair users like me.

Restricted campus life

As a result of my parents’ demands, ramps had been constructed in front of my classrooms. This at least enabled me to go freely at least to my classes.

My campus life got restricted to my classrooms just because of this accessibility problem.

In order to try out my teaching skills, I decided to work in a college as a guest lecturer. Even though there are many vacancies in all colleges, including private ones, as a disabled person, I have to depend on government institutions.

Since there are ramps at Women’s College, where I had studied for five years, I thought it would be the comfortable space for me to start my teaching practice.

But unfortunately, I did not get because there were many applicants with PhD and many years of work experience which are taken into account as per the Collegiate Education department norms.

Lost opportunities

In private colleges, these are not always considered and it is comparatively easy to get a post there. But because of the accessibility problem, I could not apply there.

In almost all jobs, 3% vacancies are reserved for persons with disabilities. This reservation needs to be given in the case of guest lecturers as well.

Without any such considerations, it would be impossible for qualified disabled persons like me to enter into the mainstream society.

The authorities simply make some declarations regarding the empowerment of persons with disabilities. But all these remain only on paper.

The public is almost insensitive to the issues of people like me.

Putting law into practice

Just because of lack of accessibility, I am losing scores of opportunities to develop in my academic life. There may be many others having similar experiences. It is high time the government puts the law into practice.

Read more about the Wheelchair Friendly Trivandrum initiative on the group’s Facebook page.

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