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Abling the disabled

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CHALLENGING Still a long way to go
CHALLENGING Still a long way to go

A change in attitude and perception will make lives easier for the physically challenged people, writes S.AISHWARYA

On a scorching mid-day, K. R. Rajesh, a carpenter, makes his way through the narrow lanes pedalling his specially designed tricycle with hands. "Seven more kilometres to reach," he says while heading for his workplace. His work requires over 20 kilometres of travel each day. Till recently, Mr. Rajesh, a disabled person, used to rent a tricycle at an exceedingly high cost. Recently, he managed to save enough to own one.

Dreadful falls

"Earlier, I even used to commute by buses and had dreadful falls from the footboard twice. Now, I shudder at the idea of getting into a bus," he recounts. His ordeal is not an isolated one. For many disabled persons, the city is frightfully inaccessible. The easiest of tasks could prove to be most arduous for persons with disabilities, once they are out of their haven. A.R. Rajkumar, another orthopaedically challenged bank employee, says friends with similar disabilities hesitate to visit banks due to the lack of counters at reachable heights. "I can't go out to pay my bills, libraries or self-service departmental stores. Why don't they earmark separate counters for us?" he asks. When it comes to public amenities, the needs of the disabled are hardly taken into account. Acceptance levels may have improved. But addressing their needs is clearly not a priority. Case is no different for the visually challenged either. "Braille systems hardly exist in the city. Leave alone the blind, what about persons with partial vision? Why can't the notice boards or carpets in front of buildings be brightly coloured?" asks Valarmathi Rajkumar. She is one of the trainees at a rehabilitation school in the city. About 30 special schools and rehabilitation centres are being run to improve the quality of life of challenged individuals. But all them concede that they still have a long way to go. Travelling is a trauma for most. Though they have a couple of seats earmarked for them in buses, people do not always extend the courtesy to offer them. The lack of ramps to reach footboards, pavements, parking areas, office lobbies make routine life complicated for the disabled.Though the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act 1995 incorporates provisions for ramps in public buildings, adaptation of toilets for wheel chair users, Braille symbols and auditory signals in elevators, the facilities are hard to find. "But it is not intentional in most cases. Hardly few are aware of the Act," says an official at the District Rehabilitation Centre. The rehab centre conducts workshops and training for public workers, NGOs, professors and students to create awareness about the barrier-free environment. Even a slight structural modification can do wonders in helping special people commute without much difficulty."No major constructional changes are required to slot in ramps, hand rails and Braille notice boards. The building must be made acoustic perfect with smooth but non-slippery flooring and a connecting corridors between two buildings." Ramps have been provided in a few government buildings in recent times. But in a majority of public buildings, the official confides, not even one of these requirements have been met with."The city has just learnt about the need of placing ramps at the entrance. Hopefully, other norms will be soon dealt with," he adds.

Needs attitudinal change

Amenities in public and private buildings are absolutely inaccessible for physically challenged sinks, washbasins and switchboards are few among many basic requirements that people take for granted. Making life pleasant for physically challenged needs an attitude change among people, says the coordinator of Spastic Society of Tiruchi, C. Shantakumar. The Society will soon wear a new look at Ramalinga Nagar with the facilities required for spastic children to function independently."We encourage parents of these children to take them out frequently. But people just don't seem to be comfortable dealing with these children," he complains. Some special children are low in self-esteem. Dependence and public apathy could dent their self-respect further. "We encourage disabled persons to socialise through our orientation programmes, but the attitude of the general public has been discouraging," says Priya Theodore, Honorary Director of Rehabilitation Centre for Blind Women. The centre trains the blind in household chores, banking transactions and self-employment. After completion of three years of orientation at the centre, visually challenged women find it difficult to adjust to the conditions of society. "Disabled persons hate to depend on others at public places. But the society takes their needs for granted. What is trivial for us could pose a challenge to disabled people," she says.With organisations and rehabilitation centres focussing on students to sensitise them about the drive for barrier-free city, colleges chip in their role in a unique way. Students of Architecture at National Institute of Technology Tiruchi (NIT-T) get to learn about the government norms as part of their design exercises. "Though they are not part of our curricula, we teach students the basic designing of ramps and other requirements of the disabled," says S. Rajendra Babu, an assistant professor at NIT-T. Apart from the various measures initiated to make the lives of the differently-abled people a shade better, what is required more is understanding their perception of life. For a change in attitude and perception will go a long way in making the city barrier-free for the disabled.

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