By Merril Diniz:
According to a recent article by the BBC, KM Yadav, a tea seller in Uttar Pradesh has achieved a minor feat by helping hundreds of Indian villagers get access to critical government information. In turn, this info enabled them to claim their benefits and rights. This Yadav did, using the RTI (Right To Information) Act, which has come to be known as the “weapon of the weak”.
As brilliant as it is, though, the RTI is mostly inaccessible to those who cannot read and write. In fact, according to a UNESCO report released in 2014, India’s illiterate population constitutes 287 million people i.e. 37% of the world’s population, and the largest number of illiterate people residing in one nation. So, unless adequate helplines and support centres are put in place, this demographic has very little hope of using the RTI to their advantage.
When you really think about it, though our Constitution states that we are all equal in the eyes of the law, in reality, our public spaces, facilities and services are most suitable for a very specific demographic – young, literate, non-disabled, privileged males. Throw in English-speaking, and you have an additional layer of accessibility. Where does that leave the rest of our population? The statistics speak for themselves.
India has over 100 million senior citizens, many of whom never make it to a polling booth during an election, due to lack of transportation. If that is the case, how are they expected to exercise their franchise during an election?
If a young girl cannot attend school because she cannot walk, how can she ever expect to get an education? Well, the number of people with disabilities between age 15 to 59 years, according to the National Census 2011, was 1.34 crore. Of these, 9.9 million are ‘non-workers’ or ‘marginal workers’ because they are excluded by our education systems.
And here’s a real kicker. If a new mom is expected to nurse her baby in a restroom, how can she ever expect to visit any public space? After all, would you eat your lunch or dinner in a loo? I doubt it!
We live in a diverse world. Yet, the vast majority of our populations cannot access basic facilities and services because our transportation systems, our education systems, our workplaces, even the way we design something as basic as a toilet, barely reflect the diversity of humankind. Let’s accept that inaccessibility in all its myriad forms is deeply rooted in our systems and our psyche, and if we want to make a change, we have to start seeing accessibility as a human right, not as a favour we must do to make life “inclusive” for a specific demographic.
Which is why, Youth Ki Awaaz and CBM India, a leading disability and development organisation, have joined hands to kick off an informed dialogue around the many dimensions of accessibility. Over the next two months, we will also talk about legislations and the economic costs of exclusion, and most importantly, how we can work towards a more accessible world, one that can bring us closer to our goal of #Access4All. After all, there can be no equality without accessibility.
Watch this space!