2.1 Crore Indians Are Denied Basic Rights Every Day! 8 Experts Reveal What Needs To Change

“Do people with disabilities fall in love? Do they drink?”

Yes, these are legit questions that Inclov co-founder Shankar Srinivasan has been asked countless times in the past. A true believer in #Access4All, his response in the face of the apathy he witnesses when talking about this issue is to direct people to Inclov, a unique matchmaking website for people with disabilities.

But Shankar’s experience is not unheard of. Because disability is so rarely discussed in our everyday conversations, many of us are guilty of the same folly. In doing so, however, we fail to recognise the rights of 2.1 crore Indians! (According to Census 2011, that’s the number of people who are living with disabilities in India). Add to that the systematic marginalisation people with disabilities face on a day to day basis, and suddenly things don’t look so good.

This needs changing. And to discuss what should be changed and how, Shankar joined a discussion at YKA and CBM India’s #Access4All event last week, where we learned some important lessons about inclusion of people with disabilities.

1. People With Disabilities Are Not Just Excluded Socially, Also Systematically

Nipun Malhotra, the founder of the Nipman Foundation, kickstarted the discussion with a crucial point: exclusion of people with disabilities doesn’t just end with social stigma, it also extends to our policies and laws.

Schemes and initiatives such as the Odd/Even scheme by the Kejriwal government in Delhi don’t take into account the needs of those with mobility impairment. This also extends to the way public infrastructure is designed, impacting a person’s everyday life, including something as basic and important as public washrooms, which are rarely disability-friendly.

2. Rules, Regulations And Policies Need To Reflect In Our Attitudes, Not Just On Paper

Dipendra Manocha, of Saksham, spoke about the need for a ‘universal design’ for buildings, markets and other public infrastructure that also recognises and takes into account the needs of people with disabilities.

However, he added, this universal design shouldn’t include the needs of people with disabilities as a ‘special feature’. Rather, an intrinsic attitudinal shift needs to be inculcated through careful education to make disability more ‘mainstream’. Only then, he says, can #Access4All be truly achieved.

3. Technology May Be A Game Changer, But It Needs To Support, Not Segregate

Binni Kumari of the Score Foundation shared experiences of facing challenges with the one solution we all fall back on when it comes to addressing the issue of #Access4All: technology.

She aptly pointed out that while technology has made things supremely easy for those with disability, it is not without error, and we must all recognise that. Innovation alone, she said, cannot solve the problem of access. Rather, it needs to be seen as part of the whole solution.

4. Why Doesn’t Our Interest In Learning A New Language Extend To Signing?

An apt question posed by Ruma Roka, of the Noida Deaf Society. The biggest challenge faced by the deaf community in India is communication. One possible solution for change is to make the Sign Language a part of the ‘mainstream curriculum’.

After all, we fight over the need for our regional languages to be recognised as official languages. Why don’t we have the same attitude towards the Indian Sign Language?

5. There Needs To Be Inclusion Of People With Disabilities In Sports

Pradeep Raj, a para-athlete and disability rights activist, steered the conversation in another interesting direction: sports. We’re always cheering for our Olympics champions and our men’s cricket team, but where’s all the noise when it comes to the Paralympics?

The People With Disabilities Act means nothing if we can’t offer aspiring sportspeople with disabilities the opportunities they deserve. Our coaches need to be trained to accommodate the needs of those with disability, not as a special favour, but as a basic necessity.

6. The Government Needs To Lead By Example So Society Can Follow

“How many government buildings are accessible for those with mobility impairments?” asked Guddu Singh Panwar, who rejected the traditional wheelchair for a skateboard as a mode of movement.

The shift in attitude in society will only come if our leaders lead by example. When government centres and buildings shut out a chunk of the population, where do the people go to demand their rights?

7. Inclusion Isn’t Just About Education And Career, But Also For Recreation

Neha Arora, founder of Planet Abled, rounded off the panel discussion with an important insight: people with disabilities are also looking for opportunities to travel, they also want to experience different cities and cultures and see all the famous monuments and places that everyone else talks about.

Many of us think of accessibility in terms of education and careers, but rarely do we acknowledge the need for people with disabilities to enjoy the smaller pleasures, the more recreational things in life. Shouldn’t this come to us naturally, when we talk about inclusion?

Unquestionably then, inclusion is not just about improving infrastructure and technology, but a much larger ask. The attitudinal shift required to build a truly accessible society requires us to recognise and eliminate the privilege that comes with being able-bodied. And, as Parvinder Singh of CBM-India rightly concluded, this needs to be effected partly through political struggle and partly through engaging in an open and free dialogue.

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