At This Public Event For Disability Rights, Accessibility Came Last

Posted on July 26, 2016 in Disability Rights

By Merril Diniz:

“It is not everyday that issues related to disability are discussed on a Sunday morning,” observes ‘sit-down comic’, Nipun Malhotra, who has recently begun using humour to dispel the myths around disability. Nipun was here at India Gate, at 8 am on July 25, along with a diverse bunch of people, to attend “Ride For Accessibility“, an event orchestrated by the Accessible India Campaign to generate awareness around the need for accessibility across all spheres of life. In reality, though, the occasion was a mixed bag of hits and misses. In a typical political rally style, three cabinet members took the podium alongside the campaign’s celebrity brand ambassador, Vivek Oberoi.

Nipun who had a front-row seat had several insights. “I would have liked them to speak to the disabled rather than in third person (empathy rather than sympathy). I would have also liked Ira Singhal (India’s first civil service topper with a disability) to speak since she was on stage – after all she’s an independent thinker, not a mere cheerleader,” he observed.

Rajesh P Menon agrees. The senior principal consultant with Genpact, who was here with fellow members of Finger Chats, a group that teaches Indian Sign Language, was unimpressed by the glitz and glamour of the event. “While talking about inclusion or Sugamya Bharat, it is disheartening to see that the main dais had only one dignitary representing people with disabilities, and she was never invited to share her views. Was it a PR exercise to divert the attention from the RPWD (Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill)?” he wonders.

During his brief speech, HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar shared that chapters on disability support would be introduced in school textbooks. This is an admirable thought. However, Rakesh, a person with a visual impairment who travelled a long distance to attend the event, made a profound observation. “It can be understood better if we stop segregated schools for children with disabilities and allow everyone to study and grow, together. The former creates social exclusion.”

Several NGOs working in the space of disability also came, including a team from AADI, which for several children with disabilities, is the first school they will ever know.

ride for access 1
Image Credit: Lipi Mehta

On a different note, the significance of the main course of the event – the ride for accessibility itself – seemed lost on some attendees. While parathlete and disability rights advocate Pradeep Raj and his wife Suvarna, table tennis parathlete, showed up with around 40-50 parathletes, they were miffed by the lack of facilities at the event.

Several biker clubs and gangs participated, including CPRF personnel. However, Nipun says he would have preferred if a rally of people with disabilities, marched/wheeled themselves around India Gate rather than “some bikers showing off their stunts.”

Vinayana Khurana, a literature graduate from Delhi University, said she would have loved if instead of cycles and bikes, non-disabled people were given wheelchairs, and were asked to move around in them for one hour. “Now, that would have been helpful in changing their perspective towards accessibility!” says Vinayana, who felt that the event had no resonating ‘effect’ on the core focus of the campaign – accessibility. And in more than one way.

She and several others felt, the event was sadly not accessible. “One sign language interpreter is not enough. You must have at least two, or alternatively use a projector, so that deaf people who are not close to the stage can also follow the conversation,” observes Rajesh. Ramps were also missing, which made it difficult for wheelchair users to navigate the grass on which a stage and seating area had been built.

Yet, despite all issues, Nipun says he felt happy that the event had happened at all. “We need more such events and the government will only improve with practice. I was also happy that college youth had turned out in large numbers to support this cause. Never mind that on being questioned, some stated that they’d come for some ‘social cause’ but had to no clue what that was! At least the word ‘accessibility’ has now been added to their dictionary,” he rounds up with a hopeful smile.