Mobility is a challenge 4 OIOP
Mobility remains a challenge…
Once again, December 3 will arrive and there will be several press releases and media coverage about World Disability Day. World over, several events will take place and India is not one to be left behind. According to the last census, the number of disabled in the country is about 2.1% of the population, although unofficial estimates feel the number is much higher.
Among the five types of disabilities on which data has been collected, visual disability at 48.5% emerges as the top category. Others in sequence are: In movement (27.9%), Mental (10.3%), speech (7.5%), and In hearing (5.8%).
A lot has been written about the welfare of the disabled in India and several measures have been introduced both by the state as well as the central government from time to time. A large number of legislations have been introduced and several attempts have been made to ensure that the disabled are brought into the mainstream. The Persons with Disabilities Act was enacted in the year 1995 and Commissioners of Disability have been appointed in all states with specific work assigned to them to get the system started. A number of provisions have been meticulously laid out in the act. For some time it was thought that the disabled will soon get the much awaited relief. Yet, 20 years down the line, it appears that these efforts have not yielded tangible results.
The reality on the ground for an average disabled person is far from what our policy makers realize. Enacting laws for the welfare of this segment is just a minor event for the government. Getting any of the reliefs mentioned is a tiresome task for the person concerned as well as his family.
Three major issues relating to the welfare of the disabled have been mentioned here, among a host of others, in order to illustrate how things actually work at the ground level.
Accessibility to government buildings
The elderly and disabled persons may need to visit government offices to enquire about various services intended for their welfare. Registration of property, making official applications, attending court matters etc. are situations where the disabled person cannot depute another person to get his/her job done. It is only at such times one realizes that access to several government departments is difficult if the disabled person is not assisted by someone else.
The Persons with Disabilities Act 1995 in Chapter VIII with regards to non-discrimination of the disabled, clearly mentions that ramps should be provided in public buildings. Although the Act was legislated two decades ago, even today many handicapped people find it difficult to enter government offices.
One can very well understand that government offices constructed several decades before the Act came into existence may take some time to make these modifications. However, even officials in-charge of newly constructed buildings too have turned a blind eye to these provisions. To make a specific observation, the Regional Transport Office at Andheri inaugurated their new “state of the art” building complex in 2013 (18 years after PWD Act) with much fanfare but it appears that they forgot all about Chapter VIII !
When a disabled person tries to visit this office for getting his specially modified vehicle certified, he has to negotiate a flight of slippery, granite stairs with no hand-railings for support. Perhaps it is because the RTO office does not believe that the disabled can drive! When a disabled person cannot enter the building comfortably, how does he approach the officer concerned to enquire about the procedure to procure a modified car for his independence?
Getting a prosthesis
For a physically disabled person, a caliper or a leather back support helps him/her to become mobile. Young men and women suffering from a physical disability requiring these appliances for support and stability visit government hospitals which provide these free or at a nominal charge. In Mumbai, the central government agency All India Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Haji Ali is relatively well equipped with staff and material. However, the centre is located in South Mumbai whereas the major chunks of socioeconomically lower and middle-income groups have shifted to the northwestern and eastern suburbs. Imagine people who cannot walk, board buses and trains to travel 20-40 kms to reach this place.
The municipal corporation run-Lokmanya Tilak Mun. Medical College at Sion in central Mumbai has a department of orthotics which is well staffed. According to patients visiting the department over the past few years, there is a perennial shortage of material and they are often turned away to private institutions to get their calipers or other appliances made. According to patients, the staff who appear to be genuinely helpful claim helplessness due to the bureaucratic delays in getting supplies.
This is yet another instance of bad management by the very government that enacts laws but forgets to implement it efficiently. The salary paid to the staff and the cost of maintaining premises which serves no use to the public is a drain on the exchequer.
The government and the municipal corporation which is flushed with funds for all other purposes finds it difficult to provide for rehabilitating its unfortunate citizens. If this is the state of affairs in urbs prima in Indis then God help the people in other places!
Getting a modified vehicle
2-wheelers are the cheapest mode of transport for the physically disabled. As the disabled driver cannot balance it a side-car needs to be fixed from some private workshop. In the past the traffic authorities were registering such vehicles which are not done lately putting a lot of genuine people to grave discomfort.
Fortunately for the physically disabled person now, cars are being modified to enable them to drive and be come independent. Depending on the nature and severity of the disability, extra fittings are available for manipulating the accelerator, brake, clutch as well as for easy steering. These fittings were, until 2004, available in factory-fitted cars manufactured by Maruti-Suzuki only and could be ordered by submitting the requisite documents. Once the vehicle was obtained, it was marked ‘Invalid Carriage’ in the dealer’s records enabling easy registration with the Regional Transport Authority.
Today with Maruti-Suzuki stopping production of this segment, the entire exercise has become very difficult for the one who needs it. Now regular cars have to be purchased from the market and RTO permission has to be sought for modifying it. Then the car has to be given to private agencies to get the fittings installed and finally it has to be taken for ratification to the RTO. All these procedures have become extremely cumbersome, time-consuming and painstaking with the officers’ concerned showing scant interest in the difficulties of the applicant.
During the process it is observed that the inspectors themselves are not aware of the entire procedure sending the hapless applicant on a wild goose chase!
Like all other laws in our country we suffer from an ‘implementation paralysis.’ Law remains on paper whereas the person in-charge of implementing it is either unaware or disinterested. In order to remedy this situation, the Commissioner of Disabilities in each district should conduct sensitization programs to empathize with the needs of the disabled. They should be trained to go out of their way to help the applicant. Organizations working in the field of disability should be regularly tapped and involved with the officials to work out better ways of ensuring that the clauses mentioned in the PWD Act becomes meaningful to the people for whom it is meant.
It is important for both the policy makers in high offices as well as for the bureaucrats to realize that it is better to provide better facilities to the handicapped and make him socially and financially independent rather than give him financial sops and make him/her lean on others.
Finally, each and every individual, not just the government officials, should buck up and take these issues seriously, for: potentially anyone could meet with an accident and end up with some disability!