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‘Get Up From Your Wheelchair Or Miss Your Flight’

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By Merril Diniz:

“Get up from your wheelchair or else miss your flight,” disability rights activist Javed Abidi was told during a security check at Delhi’s international airport. Suvarna Raj, a paralympian was forced to do the same. Such incidents are not few and far between.

In fact, several negative perceptions impede the lives of persons with disabilities. One being that they are incapable of travelling without an escort, as was the case of Mumbai resident Victor Rodrigues (who uses a crutch), whose train ticket was not only cancelled, he was also fined the same amount as a person travelling without a ticket! Another common perception is that children with disabilities must study in segregated schools, and cannot cope with their non-disabled peers. If that was the case, how could Ira Singhal have topped the civil services exams?

Yet, time and again, at workplaces, educational institutes or in public spaces, a person with a disability is subject to recurring insensitivity, simply because our systems are not geared to be accessible. However, dissent against this treatment is growing, and to gauge the sentiments of people, we posed this question on our Facebook page.

In response, we received some hard hitting perspectives from a cross-section of people.

Nipun Malhotra
Co-Founder & CEO, Nipman Foundation

I don’t have an answer to the ‘WHY’ but I do feel it’s the world that’s a poorer place with it treating PWDs unfairly in public spaces – just imagine the Helen Kellers, Stephen Hawkings and Beethovens, we might have missed out on because of lack of opportunities and discrimination.

I’m glad you’ve also specifically covered challenges faced while flying. Travelling with a battery-operated wheelchair is always a nightmare for me – security throws up new challenges every time. I think every frequently flying Indian with a disability has been deboarded/not been allowed to board a flight at some point in life.

Wilbur Fredrick Ticlo

Arrogance is the only mantra of the officials in position. With no control and proper implementation of guidelines laid out for our disabled brothers, sisters and children, it is a shame for our elected representatives who call themselves as saviours/lawmakers at this point of time. It is a sad day to regret and correction is a top priority.

Rupmani Chhetri
Works at HAQ: Centre for Child Rights & Founder of Informative News For Deaf Persons; Member of National Association of the Deaf

Equal access to public spaces is our human right, there is not a sign language interpreter visible in any events. It is very difficult for the deaf to manage in travelling, planes, flights and hospitals without a sign language interpreter. There must also be an interpreter at police stations. Also in education. Or else how can we communicate? Accessibility is our human right!!!!

Neerja Sharma Khurana

Disability is not a phenomenon that is linked to a specific individual. Everyone in the universe is liable to get this disability either due to birth, accident or old age. Today, you are looking to someone with hatred, sympathy or any other emotion but tomorrow you can be the victim. So, think twice before being insensitive. You have to, you must, make India Accessible, because it can make your tomorrow also accessible.

Rahul Rawal
Operations Manager – Consulting Delivery at Aon Hewitt

Well, I haven’t travelled by air till now but I know this much about myself that I won’t accept anything like that. My message to the airlines and the authorities is: if I’ve booked a ticket then I’ll fly otherwise get ready for a war, and and I mean it literally. For the fellow persons with disabilities: in our country, either you fight for your rights or you suffer. So, go for the fight instead.

Pradeep Raj
Disability Rights Advocate associated with United Nations & Accessible India Campaign; Founder of Association for Disabled People

We faced the same problem many times at IG International Airport. There are some guidelines and manuals for CISF and BCAS but they don’t follow them.

Shweta Kansal
Indian Sign Language Interpreter & Psychologist

It is very disappointing to see how people with any disability such as mental disorder, physical disability are mistreated in our country. We are already lagging behind in providing the services they deserve, at least we should cooperate and respect them from our end. I know many patients with mental disorders who are not treated well and the stigma that is attached to them that they refrain from seeking treatment. I think we all should stop being judgemental and stop showing pity. Each individual is different and we should respect that.

Latika Kapoor
Working professional & Retail Merchandiser – Golden Gown

Lack of facility is understood but lack of mature mentality is what raises my eyebrows every time. People around look at persons with disabilities as if they have landed from Mars. C’mon! Help instead of giving that strange stare.

Saurabh Goel

Accessibility should not just be limited to public spaces. It must be applied across private sector as well, with certain parameters applying. I think a separate disability universal ID must be introduced with a person’s data to identity his or her needs, specially when facing such situations!

Pallavi Roy

Transportation system is a big problem; it should be improved for disabled people and equal rights should be given. It is really sad that such people who behave like that really exist and it is in India. I think innovation is needed. Lots of NGOs are working but for their other needs. According to me travel agencies should come forward with the help of government to make a new transportation, which will provide equal access to all. Things will change if we create a space.

Abha Khetarpal Maurya
Founder – Cross The Hurdles

As long as we are treated a different from others…as long as we are addressed by different names like “Divyang”, “specially-abled”, “differently-abled”, etc., as long as such attitudinal barriers exist we would not be treated at par with everyone else. At some places we would be ridiculed, made fun of, and at others we would be hailed as heroes, super humans etc. Till then we would be treated in an unfair way.

Sujayendra Krishna Nellore

Our disabled friendliness is about as good as Ethiopia’s.

Garima Chamoli

It’s all centred around giving them the desired space and a sense of comfort, at which most of us have failed endlessly. The movement becomes tough and people act like aliens. We really need to sit and build up ideas that shall enable our disabled friends to stop facing such stigma 🙂

Vinayana Khurana
Delhi University student

Still there are people who think – why do families go on vacations with their child having a disability? There is extreme unfair treatment of a person on a wheelchair in public spaces. The one question that always disturbs me is – “why have you brought her here?” This is more than insensitivity!!

Parvinder Singh
Campaigner working on social change and disability issues

The answer to this is linked to two interrelated aspects. First, is the prevailing mindset and attitude that disregard the diversity and universality of needs, where each and every member of society has same rights as the more visible majority. The second is how the planning decisions and policy frameworks are made from a very narrow perspective, which is only focused on a selected group. In other words, if during security screenings at airports, the staff is insensitive to the needs of personal safety and privacy of travellers with disabilities, it reflects a social conditioning where the security staff would have had limited or no interaction with people with disabilities and most likely while being trained would not have been oriented towards the risks like asking a wheelchair user to be moved. In fact, when one looks at the so-called special services you get a sense of the combination of mindsets and policy myopia, the access in public places, the water dispensers, the lack of designated parking and elevators without audio announcements. This also extends to how we design everything else including policies related to entitlements.

Meera Sharma

This is really true. People’s eyes start staring and chasing the person on the wheelchair. This is very uncomfortable and unfair.

Sandhiyan Thilagavathy

Part of the problem with the word ‘disabilities’ is that it immediately suggests an inability to see, hear, walk or do other things that many of us take for granted. But what of people who can’t feel? Or talk about their feelings? Or manage their feelings in constructive ways? What of people who aren’t able to form close and strong relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives, or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and bitterness and find in life no joy, no love?

These, it seems to me, are the real disabilities.

Sita Lakshmi

Every individual has the right to enjoy life, study and earn his livelihood. In India, disability is looked upon as a burden or with sympathy. They are emotionally and morally strong. We need not display our emotions. Create facilities and empower them. See the difference.

If you have strong views on the inaccessibility in our society for persons with disabilities, please write in with your experiences and perspectives, and join in the fight for #Access4All.

Featured image is a photograph of Javed Abidi.
Banner image credit: zeevveez/Flickr.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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