Access > Access audits
Finding the way for the will
NCPEDP’s campaign for total access for disabled persons continues to be a long drawn battle with authorities, but the opposition seems to be softening.
The issue of ‘Access’ easily surpasses all others when it comes to empowering disabled people. Access leads to education, employment, awareness and empowerment. Conversely, it is the lack of access that hampers the growth of millions of disabled persons in India. Access for disabled people has therefore been high on the agenda of NCPEDP.
The issue is not as simple as it seems. There are multiple disabilities to consider, each having its unique needs. Moreover, there are an overwhelming number of institutions to deal with to achieve complete access – the roadways, railways, airlines, municipalities, various educational institutions, architects and a plethora of government bodies.
In August 1999, NCPEDP decided to take some professional help to achieve this
purpose. The result was a workshop titled ‘Design for the Disabled’
organized with India’s premiere design institute, National Institute of
Design (NID), Ahmedabad.
Held at the NID premises in Ahmedabad on 5th-6th August 1999, the workshop brought together professionals from the fields of design, transportation, town planning, healthcare, architecture and manufacturing, as well as NGOs and disabled persons to discuss the various aspects of providing access to disabled people.
The workshop witnessed presentations by NID professors on design thought and the aim of design, with particular emphasis on designing for disabled persons. Shri D.S. Meshram, Chief Town Planner, Town and Country Planning Organisation, Govt. of India, made a presentation on ‘Barrier Free Access to Built Environment and Public Transport: Policies and Practices’ where he highlighted the efforts made by various agencies to achieve a barrier free environment. Subsequent presentations by Shri P.R. Mehta, President, Council of Architecture and Shri A.K Rajagopalan, President, The Indian Institute of Architects, discussed in great detail the issues pertaining to design for the disabled. The sessions were interspersed with panel discussions and a question and answer session. Members from the field of disability expressed their viewpoints, and anguish at the slow progress made in achieving a barrier free environment.
The NID designers and students presented various case studies on designing for the disabled and exhibited some award-winning product designs. Students of the NID participated in the workshop enthusiastically and vowed to pursue the issue, even after passing out from the institute. The workshop, for the first time, brought together minds from various disciplines to address a problem of stupendous proportions. The results were heartening with every one going back with fresh ideas and initiatives planned.
Recommendations of the workshop
Since then, NCPEDP has taken up the issue of access for disabled people at various fora, the most recent being a workshop to evolve a Master Plan to make Delhi totally accessible with the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation. In October 2000, NCPEDP sent a representation to the Review Committee of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) regarding various empowerment measures for persons with disabilities. It was heartening to see that as a result UPSC ensured that the Civil Services examinations held in May 2000 were done in a totally disabled-friendly environment. NCPEDP has also written to the New Delhi Municipal Council, Urban Development Ministry, Delhi Transport Corporation and the Ministries of Railways and Aviation regarding facilities for access. At the same time NCPEDP has been undertaking disability audits of buildings and public places around the country.
A nation-wide campaign was launched in October-December 1999: ‘Disability 2000 campaign’. That year, it was decided to "celebrate" disability, to walk with head held high into the new millennium. The Disability 2000 logo was unveiled on October 5. Depicting a disabled person holding a flower, it symbolises hope and optimism. Many activities were organised in Delhi as the run-up to World Disability Day, leading up to the all-India celebrations. A common theme, a common message united N.C.P.E.D.P. partners in the 32 States and Union Territories in India. Cricketer Ajay Jadeja, industrialist Subodh Bhargava and actress Nandita Das were designated Ambassadors of Disability. A Walk to Freedom and a Disability Convention were organised in every State and Union Territory of India. In addition, a short film, The Invisible Minority, was produced. There were also three television spots featuring our Ambassadors of Disability. These activities culminated on December 3 with Disability Day celebrations in New Delhi.
Dr. Hawking introduces the ASI to ‘The Ramp Theory’
Dr. Stephen Hawking, one of the century’s best brains and the world’s leading theoretical physicist, was in India to discuss the String Theory in January 2001. The theory throws new light on the workings of the Universe, but Dr. Hawking’s visit will be remembered for bringing to light the issue of accessibility for disabled persons in India. Dr. Hawking’s desire to visit the Red Fort, Qutub Minar, Humayun’s Tomb and the Jantar Mantar opened a Pandora’s box. Since all these places are a nightmare for the disabled, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) was cornered into making them accessible, something the disabled people have been asking for a long time with no results. Dr. Hawking’s visit exposed the lacunae in ASI’s approach and thinking and attracted great media attention on the issue of accessibility for the disabled. Due to our advocacy, ASI and the Institute for the Physically Handicapped, under instructions from the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, built temporary ramps practically overnight at all the four monuments. ASI also announced a policy to make all historic places, including heritage sites, disabled-friendly. NCPEDP followed Dr. Hawking’s visit with Disability Audits of monuments, such as the Taj Mahal in Agra, the City Palace in Jaipur and the Buddhist shrine at Sarnath. People of different disabilities who view the access from their point of view carry out the audits. The results of the audits are then compiled and sent to the audited organisation for follow-up.
Putting educational institutes under the Access microscope
N.C.P.E.D.P. then tackled another question on access: Delhi University has been granting admission to disabled students since 2000. But how disabled-friendly are those hallowed portals of learning? To answer this, N.C.P.E.D.P. was given an assignment by HT Horizon to conduct an Access Audit of five Delhi University colleges and to rank them on the basis of their disabled-friendliness. The colleges finally audited were: Miranda House, Shri Ram College of Commerce, Gargi College, Hindu College and Sri Venkateswara College.
A team visited the colleges and evaluated the areas that the students commonly use, for example, toilets, library, classrooms, canteen, auditorium, etc. None of the five colleges were totally disabled-friendly. It was interesting to find that some efforts have been made to create access for disabled students by constructing ramps at a few places. However, due to lack of awareness, the structural changes that have been made are ineffective for disabled students, especially for students on wheelchairs.
None of the Principals were aware of the U.G.C. scheme that provides grants for making colleges accessible, for buying equipment and resource materials for disabled students, for setting up Disability Units in the colleges and for providing fellowship to disabled students.
“Although Delhi University has a policy regarding admission of disabled students,” admitted Hema Raghavan, Dean Students’ Welfare, Delhi University, “does not have any policy concerning infrastructure and other facilities for disabled students in the college premises.”
This spurred N.C.P.E.D.P to launch a nation-wide campaign to conduct access audits all over the country, ably supported by its Partners in the States.
Disability Audits undertaken by NCPEDP
11th April 2001: Crafts Museum (Although the museum had ramps,
unaccompanied wheelchair users could not use them. The restrooms were also inaccessible.
There should be guiding blocks near steps for visually impaired visitors and
Braille versions of information on the objects displayed.); National Gallery
of Modern Art (The ramp constructed for the audit was not of the correct gradient.
Lift spaces should be wider to accommodate wheelchairs. Lifts should also be
equipped with audible signals. )
Pandara Road Market: (Guiding blocks needed near entryways. A ramp is required for wheelchair users. Lower level for post office counters.); Pandara Road Post Office and Central Post Office at Gole Dak Khana (Mail slot was higher than 1200 mm.)
State Emporia and Coffee Home on Baba Kharak Singh Marg (No ramps or guiding blocks.)
12th April 2001: Sulabh Toilet at Safdarjung’s Tomb (Three steps lead to the toilet.); McDonald’s, Green Park (Portable wooden ramp available on request.)
16th April 2001: Chanakya Cinema (Inaccessible ticket window. No preferential parking spaces for the disabled.)
21st June 2001: Indraprastha Apollo Hospital (No preferential parking for the disabled. Information counters and doctors’ examination tables too high for wheelchair users. None of the toilets were accessible. Visually impaired people would not be able to use telephones and lifts or move around the hospital. No sign language interpreters for the speech and hearing impaired and no weighing machines for those not able to stand.)
Interested in conducting an access audit of your own? Use N.C.P.E.D.P.'s audit questionnaire to put buildings and public places under the disability audit scanner!