Chennai

Accessibility initiatives: ‘Build the education component into the change’

File photo of persons with disabilities’ day out at Marina beach.

File photo of persons with disabilities’ day out at Marina beach.   | Photo Credit: M. Karunakaran

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Disability rights activist K. Raghuraman on why accessibility initiatives are mostly still-born

There are fewer accessibility initiatives than there should be, for Persons with Disabilities (PwD); and even these are hamstrung by lack of sufficient knowledge.”

This was the general drift of K. Raghuraman’s commentary on pavements and other public spaces designed with PwD in mind.

Raghuraman, an assistant professor at a city college, has vision impairment. A member of Disability Right Alliance, around five years ago, he was part of the team that carried out an audit of the pavements on a few roads in Chennai, including K.B. Dasan Road in Teynampet, Police Commissioner Office Road in Egmore, and Second Avenue in Besant Nagar, that Corporation had tweaked to make them PwD-friendly.

Raghuraman recalls how he was one of those excited participants in the audit of these pavements.

“There wasn't much happening there (on these pavements) then and there isn’t much happening now, either,” says Raghuraman. “Even if an initiative comes with features that would address the problems faced by a broad spectrum of people with disabilities, it would come to naught if the education component is not built into it,” he says.

To illustrate, he takes the hypothetical situation of a long road provided with tactile paving for the benefit of people with vision impairment. “It would be useless unless there were maps guiding people with vision impairment on the various elements on the road, the distances between two shops, etc. Similarly, there should also be sensitisation of the other road users on how they should avoid doing things that would prevent people with vision impairment from using the facility optimally.”

In effect, what Raghuraman says is that exercises started to benefit PwD should co-opt the local population and other stakeholders in the area.

“At the larger bureaucratic level, initiatives for the welfare of PwD should see the involvement of not just the State Commisionerate for Welfare of the Differently Abled, but also every other government department. For we are human beings first, and PwD next. We will need to connect with various departments for our needs, just as any other human being would,” he says.

He also points out that accessibility initiatives should come with the “stamp” of people who are ultimately going to use them — that is, PWDs.

He explains, “You can’t serve me a cup of tea and think you have given me what I want, unless you have bothered to find out what flavour I like, or whether I would like to have it with sugar or without it. There are so many forms of disabilities and each demands unique modifications to facilities in the public domain, and any exercise that does not factor this in, will come across as half-hearted and painfully ineffectual.”

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Printable version | Dec 15, 2019 6:50:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/accessibility-initiatives-build-the-education-component-into-the-change/article30124006.ece

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