Public places in Madurai non-inclusive; no accessibility for the differently-abled

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More than six years have passed since the enactment of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 but its assurance of “full and effective participation and inclusion in society” for the differently-abled is yet to be fully implemented in Madurai district as differently-abled people complain of a continuing struggle to access several public facilities and institutions.  

B. Vishwanathan (55), a person with mobility impairment and a member of the Spinal Injured Persons Association, said public facilities like banks, parks, eateries, fair-price shops and convenience stores remain inaccessible to differently-abled people even today. 

“With no proper facilities like ramps, lifts, badly designed ramps with no railings, among others, we are not able to act independently. We are pushed to seek help from others, to be dependent on other people for even small movements is very embarrassing,” he added. 

Mentioning the poor accessibility facilities in government buildings and hospitals, S. Raja, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu Crawling differently abled federation, said, “Madurai Corporation though having a ramp is not designed properly to enable differently abled people to access the facility on their own.” 

Despite having such facilities, the administrations have no idea about how it should be maintained and designed in order to be fully utilized, he added.  

In addition to this, he pointed out the poor design of ramp like structure at Government Rajaji Hospital medical board section near the Ophthalmology department, where differently-abled people mostly use it for medical check ups to procure disability certificates to avail all sorts of government benefits. 

He said, “About 100 to 200 differently-abled people use the place on a regular basis, but it is designed in a way that no differently abled person can use it on their own. The ramp structure is kept very high without any railing, making it inaccessible,” he added.  

“When a public place accessed frequently by differently able people is maintained poorly, how could we expect other places like banks and private places to be friendly to people like us,” added Mr. Raja.  

Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, which came into force in Tamil Nadu in 2017, mandated that accessibility to existing buildings should be enhanced for the differently abled people within five years.  

Smitha Sadasivan, a member of the Disability Rights Alliance (DRA) who was instrumental in building a permanent ramp at Marina beach in Chennai, said the government has failed to monitor new buildings for disability-friendly infrastructure before granting approval. “The government is not paying attention to the voice of the differently-abled people, thinking of them as just accounting for 2.21% of the population and are ignoring the seriousness of the issues faced by them,” she added.  

The universal design recommended by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) should be followed, which includes infrastructure for all,” she added. “Disability-friendly infrastructure will also be helpful for those with reduced mobility – senior citizens, and pregnant women, and so expediting the work would enable such people to lead a life individually,” she reasoned. 

“With the government failing to achieve it, it has started coming up with new facilities in recreational places like beaches, which is appreciable, but the existing buildings should be revisited for disability-friendly infrastructure,” Ms. Sadhasivan said. 

According to the Act, June 14, 2022, was the last day for the government to revamp the existing structures and make them disabled-friendly, she pointed out. I’m not sure if even 10% of the work was completed though, she said. Another programme by the Union government, ‘Accessible India Campaign’, which aimed to measure the design of disabled-friendly buildings, is not transparent in its work and its audit details are unavailable in the public domains, she added. 

A senior official of the department of welfare of the differently abled people, said, “All the administrative bodies like city corporation, municipalities, town panchayats, panchayats, should take up the responsibility of monitoring and undertaking revamping works at the places coming under their jurisdiction. Corporation before giving approval for a building should check for the facilities ” the official said. 

Though all banks have been requested several times to make their buildings disability-friendly they failed to do so, the official added. “As most of the banks are situated in rented places, they hesitate to reconstruct the structure to make it accessible.” 

While the newly constructed government buildings were provided with proper facilities for differently abled people, the older ones have to be identified, for which the department along with the district Collector would form a committee, official said.  

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