Sunday saw the launch of DARE, a forum formed by a group of disabled persons to pressure the Tamil Nadu government into granting them unhindered access paths

A dozen people with disabilities that make them less mobile, formally launched a movement in K.K. Nagar on Sunday called DARE, which replaces an appeals-based approach to one that demands rights – most importantly, the right to safe and comfortable mobility.

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DARE stands for Differently Abled Rights Exnora, a forum created by the Tamil Nadu Udavikaram Association for the Welfare of the Differently, Abled in partnership with Exnora. To make the point about how difficult it is to move, several disabled people walked on crutches and rolled their wheelchairs from the bus stop to the commissionerate for the welfare of differently abled, about 300 metres away on Anna Main Road.

They picked their way around parked vans and lorries on the road margin, a massive open gutter in place of the footpath, a faded zebra crossing that no motorist heeded and stagnant water pools on the path outside the commissioner’s office.

“About 200 disabled people come everyday to two places here – the commissioner’s premises to get certificates and the Government Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine (GIRM) for treatment,” said T.A.P. Varadakutty, president of the association. “We demand that the government make this a special zone with easy access, by providing unhindered access paths, a policed road crossing with a signal, speed breakers on either side of the crossing, and pick-up vans from nearby bus stops at Ashok Pillar and Kasi Theatre to the commissionerate and the GIRM,” he added.

The road margin outside these facilities was handed over to permanent kiosk shops many years ago, and there is no demarcated space for pedestrians here. Water stagnates in pools after brief spells of rain.

Mr. Varadakutty, who was accompanied by Exnora International Founder M.B. Nirmal, said Tamil Nadu had made rules for urban local bodies recently that require all multi-storeyed buildings with more than two floors to provide ramps, lifts and other appropriate provisions to help the disabled, but the same approach was not extended to access paths like roads, crossings, bus stops and even State-owned buses – which have been designed in violation of the national Bus Code that aims to improve access.

Chennai MTC continues to buy buses that do not conform to the AIS 052 code, which prescribes single-step entry for all passengers and a low floor height.

Even new buildings do not uniformly provide access to persons with disabilities, he said, giving the example of the service tax office in Anna Nagar, where it was necessary to use a staircase to reach the lift. “It is otherwise a five-star hotel kind of building,” Mr. Varadakutty said.

The State commissioner for the disabled sits not far from the upcoming Ashok Nagar Metro Rail station, which is scheduled to begin operations in less than a year. Although the Metro is likely to improve mobility for the disabled to reach the office, the access path from the station will have to be improved.

Mr. Nirmal said Exnora would support the DARE initiative fully and help the TN Udavikkaram Association conduct an accessibility audit and certification of public buildings, rating them on a best to worst scale on several parameters.

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