Life as she knew it – fun, free and promising – came to a full stop on that fateful day five years ago, when Ashla fell off a moving train. The accident left her quadriplegic (disability of both arms and limbs) with partial ability on her upper arms. An MCA holder, she had just begun her career with a firm in Chennai when life came to a standstill.
Solitary, painful and depressing, life on a wheelchair was agonising for someone as exuberant and gregarious as her.
“I found it so humiliating that I needed the benevolence of so many people to get through every single day. I missed life outdoors, which seemed unthinkable for someone bound to a wheelchair,” Ashla says.
Her association with Pallium India gave her the courage to go on. “Ashla did not need to feel guilty about asking people for help, but it was us, society as a whole, which should feel ashamed because it is not inclusive enough and is uncaring about the right to mobility of hundreds of wheelchair-bound citizens like her,” says M.R. Rajagopal, chairman of Pallium India.
Creating a barrier-free environment in cities to enable the safety and accessibility of disabled citizens to public places should not be a town planner’s nightmare. There are clear-cut rules and official guidelines on creating barrier-free spaces in public spaces and buildings but it all comes down to people’s attitude and sensitivity – or the lack of it – towards the challenges faced by the disabled.
A barrier-free environment enables the disabled to participate in everyday activities independently, without assistance. Does it require an engineering marvel to create ramps at entrances, grab railing, slopes on pavement intersections and wheel-chair-accessible and low-height toilets?
“People would rather that we became invisible…so they need not have to think about us. It hurts when people ask us callously why don’t we stay back home than try to be out everywhere on wheelchairs. Even the few ramps in public spaces are so ill-designed that we cannot use those,” says Gokul, an advocate, who became wheelchair-bound after an accident.