Persons with disabilities
On a Saturday morning, members of Enable India, a Bengaluru-based NGO (founded by Shanti Raghavan and Dipesh Sutariya) that works towards economic independence and dignity of persons with disabilities, engaged in discussion on a Zoom call. The topic was COVID19: How persons with disabilities are coping with it. The discussion was part of Solutions Saturday, where they get together online every Saturday to address various issues being faced by the differently abled.
The participants were from different parts of India, including Bengaluru, Pune and Kolkata. They described some of the challenges they faced particularly those staying in paying guest accommodations. One participant said: “After the lockdown was announced, some paying guest accommodations asked us to leave saying they were shutting down. The state governments is saying that those staying in paying guest hostels and flats need not pay a month’s rent, but not everybody abides by these rules. Some are saying to reduce ₹1000 and give the rest of the rent. Everyone is facing these issues, not just persons with disabilities.”
Camaraderie and warmth pervaded the meeting, with suggestions being given in case of any requirement. Among the participants was Deepa S, who has spinal muscular atrophy. She heads the DELL-EMC Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) for India. “persons with disabilities have always asked for work from home because it is not always possible to go to office and today the entire world is working from home. This could be a great window to enable people. Technology is playing a pivotal role. At the same time, I request persons with disabilities to be ahead of the curve, be it technology or understanding what the world is going through. Being ahead prepares us for some of these challenges.”
Dipesh talked about the situation in Bengaluru. “On March 15, we suspended training at Enable India. The immediate problem was to see if people from Karnataka could return home. Most were able to get home on time. There are around 16 candidates from Assam and Orissa who could not return. They are still staying in PG accomodations. Our team was able to call and check with the PGs. Most of them assured us that they will not let the residents go and will provide for them even if they close down. Most PGs are running. One hostel faced a challenge of providing food. The inmates, however, were transferred to another hostel. Most of our candidates and staff are okay in the places where they are staying. One of the advantages, someone commented was that ‘I had three people in my room earlier but now I have the room to myself’.
“I have heard stories of PGs closing down. For the visually impaired, social distancing is a challenge. We got one of our candidates to our house. He is hearing and visually impaired so the only communication with him is by touch. Now he is living with us and is safe.”
For details visit www.enableindia.org or email email@example.com.
Students and working professionals
A few days before the nationwide lock-down was announced, Sheila (name changed) was informed by her caretaker of the paying guest hostel in Marathahalli that she might have to look for temporary accommodation. “I could have returned home but I did not want to put either myself or my family at risk, so I decided to stay back,” says Sheila. After much back and forth, her caretaker asked her to vacate as most of the girls had gone home. “I think the caretaker was afraid that they might fall into trouble with the authorities, though BBMP has categorically announced that no paying guest accommodation should be closed. Almost all my friends had returned home. I went to a friend’s house, but even she had decided to leave.” With nowhere to go, Sheila requested the company she works in for help. They ultimately made arrangements for her to stay in a serviced apartment.
Swati Verma, on the other hand, who stays in a PG accommodation in Madiwala that does not provide food, buying groceries has been quite a challenge — a fact all of us have to deal with. “Apart from the hassle of groceries, everything else is fine. As many girls have gone home following the announcement of lockdown, personal distancing is not a problem. Also for work from home, our caretaker constantly checks if the Wi-Fi is working, so we are being taken care of.”
For college student Akanksha, who stays in a PG hostel in Chikkasandra Layout, Koramangala the lockdown has been bearable. “We are getting food, the basics like dal and rice, tea (without milk) and biscuits, but it would be nice if the food could be better. The cooks, though, don’t have proper protective gear, and I hope something is done about it. Personal distancing is not a problem as most of the occupants have gone home.”
Ravi S, who stays in a boy’s hostel in Koramangala, is grateful that he has a place to stay. “They are strict about not letting anyone leave or anyone enter. We are served simple meals, and the maids come to clean.” When asked if they are given protective gear, he answers in the affirmative. “They are wearing masks and are asked to wash their hands.”
Dr. Nikhil Sikri, CEO & Co-Founder, Zolostays says they had anticipated the lockdown on March 1 itself. Nikhil, who completed his MBBS from AIIMS and holds a management degree from ISB, Hyderabad, speaks of the steps they have taken for their co-living properties (there are about 140 Zolostays co-living properties across Bengaluru, including Manyata Tech Park, Electronic City, Marathahalli, Koramangala, HSR, among others, and about 10,000 students and working professionals between the age group of 20 and 30 years staying there). “We stocked food for one and a half months. We have stopped all visitors from entering, and even if an occupant goes out to buy groceries we ensure that they are safe. We have a doctor on call. We have strong awareness and monitoring of symptoms. We are pro-active in co-operating with the government and medical authorities. We have changed the housekeeping schedule from twice a week to thrice a week. Our housekeeping staff is taken care of by providing them with masks, hand sanitisers, and gloves. We also disinfect frequently-touched surfaces. We have provided hand sanitisers to all the occupants.”