Today I was invited to the steering committee meeting of Urban development and Poverty Alleviation for planning of the XII Five year plan. It was a success for the disability sector because in sixty years following tireless advocacy by the Disability Rights Group representation of disability was invited to the various committees. For sixty years we have lived with only Ministry of Social Justice being the sole ministry planning for disabled people.
I was excited about participating and prepared a paper well in advance stating the issues relating to Disability and Urbanisation. After all disability is such a cross cutting issue cutting across social, economic, ethnic, cultural, age, gender related issues. This surely requires a crosscutting approach in planning to bring about a positive change. All ministries without doubt need to address the issue of inclusion of disabled people and moreover there is already an allocated 3% of budget of all ministries for disability inclusion work, which they are at a loss of ideas on how to spend.
I went with great optimism and a lot of hope. Even though this was the last meeting before finalisation of the report, I was happy to be invited after all I guess it’s better late than never. All was good and the committee patiently listened to all my interjections and accepted my paper, but somewhere I saw a big gap and am worried about what may be the outcome of it. The gap that I mention is due to lack of understanding of disability issues.
Disability within the government setup and in the various reports prepared by the planning commission committees is considered as a ‘socially excluded’ or a ‘vulnerable’ section of society clubbed in along with the economically backward and other excluded sections of the society.
Yes disabled people are socially excluded and vulnerable but still requirements of disabled people for inclusion are unique and hence cannot be clubbed with other vulnerable groups. Reservations and concessions are not the answer of disability inclusion rather creating accessibility is. For example how good is it to have concessions for ticket and reserved seats in buses for the disabled if they cant travel by bus in the first place due to inaccessibility? Or how good is it to reserve 3% housing for disabled people if the houses are not accessible?
No where in the plan does one see ‘Accessibility’ given any importance in the scheme of things. There are big planning and number games in the report and in their wisdom issues of disabled people with urban development are addressed as being a part of the excluded group. I completely fail to understand that unless accessibility or universal design does not become a important part of all schemes, programmes, and planning how do they expect to include disabled people.
If one looks at the various programmes under the Ministry of Urban Development and Ministry of housing and poverty alleviation whether it be JRUNN, RAY, SJSRY etc. not even one of them addresses the accessibility need of the disabled. One of the results of this is the BRTS and low floor buses in Delhi --the so called accessible public transport systems for disabled but the reality is far from this. And what is distressing is that these programmes and designs will be replicated elsewhere.
· Universal Design/accessible environments must become one of the key objectives of urban development and planning because everybody can use an accessible environment not just disabled people.
· Disability should not be a part of vulnerable groups only because none of the solutions that are required for their inclusion are similar to other vulnerable sections of society.
· Disability inclusion must become an important criteria for money sanctioning by the Central/State government for any projects.
· There must be quality evaluation of the accessibility provided to see how many disabled people are really getting included.
I believe that while this is a good beginning but there is a very long road the disability sector needs to tread. We need to be better prepared with out facts and figures to quote to the planning commission and other government agencies to make our case and get change.