Despite all talk of sensitising and making life for the disabled easier, in reality, the State does nothing, writes Gajanan Khergamker
The Bureau of Civil Aviation Security found itself in a sticky situation as their regulations ensuring security ticked off the Disabled Rights Group.
When the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) regulations read that there is a high probability of differently-abled people carrying weapons, explosives and other dangerous materials with them, and therefore, there is ample reason to be more alert and wary, the Disabled Rights Group (DRG) saw it as an ‘outright insult’. Describing the regulations as “disability insensitive, an outright insult and a violation of the human rights of persons with disability”, the group took umbrage with the norms which said, “Screeners should be thoroughly briefed that the possibility of carrying weapons/explosives and other dangerous materials through such passengers is higher than a normal passenger and therefore, these passengers need to be checked with care.”
So, DRG went ahead and filed a Right To Information query to which the Airports Authority of India replied saying, “There is no scope for leniency in respect of invalid/disabled/sick persons during the pre-embarkation screening/procedures. On the contrary, there is ample reason to be more alert and wary.” Owing to this very attitude, disabled persons are force to face what they perceive as “undue harassment” at the hands of untrained and insensitive security personnel.
Very often, disabled passengers using wheelchairs are asked to “stand up” or “transfer” from their personal wheelchair to sub-standard airport wheelchairs by personel who don’t realise that most wheelchair users use customised wheelchairs and cushions.
India is sadly way behind other nations in this respect and needs to urgently upgrade its legal processes where the disabled aren’t treated differently or put through excessive or challenging situations solely owing to their inabilties.
Across borders, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA), for instance, has a dedicated helpline to assist travellers with disabilities and medical conditions. Passengers can call three days ahead of travel for information about what to expect during screening. Its a dedicated resource specifically for those with disabilities, medical conditions or other circumstances keen on being prepared for the screening process prior to flying.
Incensed with norms that are outrightly insulting, DRG maintains that “nowhere in the world will a disabled person be asked to take off leg braces, or explain medical attachments like a leg bag that holds urine”.
Directorate of Civil Aviation guidelines maintain a passenger is allowed to take her/his own wheelchair to the boarding gates yet security personnel bully those who are not aware of their rights.
Even countries with a larger security threats and stricter security programmes have well-defined guidelines for screening passengers with disabilities. It would be considered blasphemous for a disabled passenger using a wheelchair to be asked to ‘get up’ at any airport in the U.S., the U.K., the European Union or even countries like South Africa, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Korea, Thailand, and UAE.
There is a definite apathy on the part of the Indian state which refuses to enforce the law empowering the disabled and make structures and public transport accessible. Although there’s every intention to create friendlier infrastructure for the country’s 70 million people with disabilities, the state has done precious little.
ADAPT which works actively in the areas of accessibility rights for the disabled was shocked to find lapses when it conducted an audit of government buildings and facilities.
Why, until 2005, even the Bombay High Court didn’t have a disabled-friendly toilet. It was only when some challenged litigants brought the issue to its attention that it was addressed.
How many elevators in public structures have floor buttons that are disabled friendly? There are just a handful of disabled-friendly toilets in the entire city.
And, almost as if the visually-impaired only commute in and around the National Association of the Blind at Worli, only the signal outside the Association’s office has an audio-visual traffic signal. Where the rest of the city is concerned, there’s little in store for the disabled. Sadly, few private organisations tend to consider the needs of the disabled or challenged. With the state itself brushing the issue of need below the carpet, private players are bound to turn a blind eye to the same.
Among the sea of projects that include private and public projects, how many of them actually conform to the law or keep the interest of the disabled in mind while designing or developing amenities? As a disabled rights activist maintained in a section of the media, “It is understandably difficult to modify existing structures but what is the excuse for the constructions that have come up after 1995, when guidelines were legally mandated.”
The inability of a physically challenged person to commute is his biggest disability that restricts his movement and potential. By law, there is a three per cent reservation for those with disabilities but it’s travelling to and from one’s workplace that poses a larger challenge, had aptly voiced Javed Abidi, a disability rights activist and director of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP).
Despite the Bombay High Court directing the Central Railway and Western Railway to figure ways to make stations and trains accessible to those with disabilities in 2009, three years later with the exception of a few, most stations do not even have basic ramps.
“Considering the hurtle for catching a train in Mumbai, it’s near impossible for one with a disability to be able to commute,” says scribe Nileema Shah. More so, since railway stations have over-bridges beween platforms which make it even more difficult for the disabled or wheelchair-bound traveller to use.
And, even if he/she reaches the platform, it is impossible to board a train owing to the difference between the platform and the train as well as the gap between the platform and train.
Eliminating the gap would be the most obvious option but one that isn’t feasible considering different railway stations are of different heights.
Why, even BEST buses are as insensitive to disabled needs and continue to ignore the obvious.
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