Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chiang Mai, Thailand in a wheelchair

I can describe Chiang Mai as a land of steep ramps. With steep ramps one may think that ravelling on a motorised wheelchair would be ideal, but mind you that public transport (tuk-tuk and songthaew) is not accessible and one needs to use regular saloon taxis to get around where carrying a motorised wheelchair may be a challenge.  Having said that there are a lot of very steep ramps and one would need constant assistance to negotiate them, I must add that the local Thai people are very helpful.

I stayed at the hotel Furama. The concept of an accessible guest room was new to them and the using the en-suite shower cum toilet is not easy. He the hotel is great but probably not the best choice if you are a wheelchair user.

Wat Doi Suthep – a temple probably built around the 1383 on a mountain top. There is popular saying that those who go to Chiang Mai without visiting Doi Suthep are no better than those who have never been to Chiang Mai at all.

The good news for all wheelchair users is that it has been made accessible.  There is an elevator from the road level that connect to the cable car that by-passes the 306 steps to reach the temple. Once in the temple site there are ramps (very steep) that connect the various levels in the temple.

Bad news is that the gradient of most the ramps is probably 1:4 and especially the one leading into the main temple seems extremely dangerous. I decided not to risk using it.

Royal Flora Ratchaphruek 2011– This is a floral exposition organized yearly at the Royal Agricultural Research Center. It is spread over 80 hectares of land. There is a cart ride available that one can take to see the expo. There is a special wheelchair accessible vehicle also available at the same cost that the staff helps you with. The only thing that is not so good is that once you board the vehicle you cannot get off at different areas instead have to just drive past everything. People using the regular carts have the option to hope in and out though. So according to me the best option is to take the accessible vehicle till a point and then wheel the rest. 

Most of the Gardens of the King from different countries are inaccessible.
Ho Kham Royal Pavillion is accessible by a lift. Bad luck for me the lift was out of operation during my visit
Thai Tropical Garden and the Expo Plaza are accessible by steep ramps.

This is one place I missed my motorized wheelchair the most.

Night Bazaar is one of Chiang Mai’s must-sees on the city’s tourist trail. Every night thousands of tourists flock to this bizarre bazaar. It is famous throughout Thailand and is perhaps the best place in the Kingdom to stock up on souvenirs and tourist-friendly clothing and accessories. The stalls are all on the pavement and there are (steep) curb ramps to get on. At places the passage is very narrow and may be difficult to pass. There may be a step or two at some places. Definitely worth a visit even in a wheelchair. Remember to bargain!

Wat Chedi Luang – One of the most fascinating structures. Built sometime between 1385 and 1402, during the reign of King Saen Muang Ma, 7th ruler of the Mengrai dynasty, Wat Chedi Luang's massive chedi (pagoda) is a distinctive feature of the Chiang Mai skyline. At its peak, the chedi measured 60 metres across at the square base and 80 metres tall and was once the home of the Emerald Buddha, Thailand's most sacred religious relic.

Wheelchair access into the courtyard that houses this ancient pagoda is only from one corner. The temples inside this complex are not accessible, but yet just seeing the giant ancient pagoda is a treat.

Maesa Elephant Camp - In the lush tropical jungle of Chiang Mai's Maesa Valley , a big family of elephants lives side by side with their mahout caretakers. "Maea Elephant Camp" is home to one of the largest assembly of elephants in the north of Thailand.  The elephants put up a show twice a day and they have also been included in the Gunnies Book of World Records.

Probably like going into any natural forest – going on a wheelchair is difficult as the ground is uneven and leveled. They have tried to give wheelchair access by building a (very steep) ramp to get on till one of the machaan’s from where one get on to the elephant for a ride. I am sure adventurous wheelchair users (that does not include me L) will be able to take an elephant ride through the forest.

Staff of the camp are helpful and willing help to negotiate the wheelchair.

Accessible toilets – before I conclude my blog I must mention that all accessible toilets throughout Thailand seem to have fixed handrails on both sides making it nearly unusable by people who do a side transfer onto the WC.

Shivani Gupta
Director AccessAbility

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Reservation without Accessibility?

How effective is inviting people with hearing impairments to a conference and not providing sign language interpreters or inviting people with vision impairments and not providing them with braille material. On a similar account how good is reservation for disabled people without simultaneously providing accessibility.

There is a much needed 3% reservation in educational institutes for disabled students but the benefit this reservation is yielding is not as overwhelming as it should be as the campuses remain inaccessible. Take for example the Delhi University has 1600 seats reserved for disabled students but only about 450 to 500 seats are filled, because disabled students cannot operate in inaccessible environments. So how good is the reservation?

Public Housing schemes have a reservation of 2-3% for disabled clients, which is definitely welcome but the impact of this reservation is questionable. The houses are not accessible therefore a disabled person would need to spend lots of money to make them accessible which put an undue burden on the disabled person and hence is discriminatory.

Then what would happen if one acquires a disability after shifting into a house on the second floor? Or what if there is a disabled child born to a couple occupying the first floor house? Because the designers and planners do not provide an option for disabled people to have basic access as even a visitor to all units in the housing complex, the person who acquires a disability later or is born with a disability on a upper floor house become a prisoner of there own house.

I can continue to discuss about all other existing reservations or concessions available to the disabled people, but without accessibility their envisaged positive impact on the lives of disabled people is questionable.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Urban Planning and Disability in India


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.

Major Gap

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.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Heaven in Hell

Ubbu, my dog, was diagnosed with Tick Fever because of which her blood reports showed multi organ dysfunction. My stress levels were high. Being a disabled person with limited mobility always made me feel that I am not doing enough to comfort her and bring her back to health. People who have pets would understand my anxiety because they would know that Ubbu is my child.
Dr Prabhakar was treating her, a very experienced, kind and patient veterinarian who had visited Ubbu at home, but now that she was diagnosed with this dreadful disease he wanted Ubbu to visit him at Friendicoes. I had heard that Friendicoes was a dark, damp and cramped place under a flyover overflowing with suffering stray dogs. I expected the visit to be a nightmare and my initial reaction confirmed it, but it wasn’t long before I saw the heaven in this hell.
There was a repelling stench of animals that one couldn’t miss as one reached. I heard the painful yelping of a dog and as I turned I saw two stray dogs who had been rescued and were in a cage. One of them had bitten his tongue while the other seemed to have a lot pain in his back and couldn’t stand. It yelped aloud as the other dog stepped on him as the cage was being wheeled towards the clinic. I closed my ears as the yelps seemed to be piercing my heart, but I had to move ahead – for Ubbu.
As we reached closer there seemed to be a chaos.  There was much more and louder yelping, growling and fighting sounds coming from various dogs that were kept behind in the shelter. There was a dog with his head completely bandaged in a cage sitting in one corner. The two dogs that were wheeled in the cage were put on the two small stretchers outside the clinic
I parked my wheelchair is one corner to ensure I was out of the chaos and Ubbu sat under my chair as nervous as me waiting for our turn. Dr Prabhakar was in the clinic, in the shelter near the stretcher outside… he was everywhere so skillfully working with a trace of any stress. A number of assistants helped him. A man kept the area clean and everybody waited patiently. I was inspired by the teams dedication. If they could be there bring a positive change then so could I.
Suddenly I saw a huge majestic Great Dane came towards me. I froze with scare. I held Ubbu tight. I knew she had no chances in front of him. He came closer looked at us for a moment disinterestedly walked ahead and sat on the side very confidently. That is when I realised he was an abandoned dog who got shelter at Friendicoes who also looked for people to adopt abandoned animals. This could not be hell I thought. There were many more lovely dogs who had been abandoned left tied to a pole especially as they became older, unwell or disabled. I wondered if people abandoned their children or other family members too and really the fact is that they do. 
Just as I was feeling angry at people who were so cruel I saw a stay dog running very fast on his front legs with his hind legs trailing listless. At first I was completely taken aback to see him zip past not knowing how to react, but as I realised that he was a paraplegic who probably hurt his spine in an accident just like me I couldn’t help but feel very happy for him because he got a chance to live.
The obnoxious smells had nearly gone by now and the chaos seemed like harmony. Ubbu’s health my discomfort all seemed so insignificant in-between all that pain and suffering. I realised that this was not hell rather it was a heaven in the hellish world we live in so full of cruelty and capability to inflict pain. Dr Prakhakar and his team were like angels attending and soothing to those suffering the most.
 Thank you Friendicoes for all that you do. I really wish you more support and expansion to an area that is sunny and open. Where these animals can get a better chance.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Watching a movie as a wheelchair user in India

I went to watch a movie today at PVR Saket. The auditorium had an accessible route till the entrance. We had seats in the centre of the second last row. I being a tetraplegic never ever sat anywhere else except my wheelchair and usually whenever I go to watch a movie I just park my chair in the aisle and continue sitting on it but here at PVR Saket they had a different rule. They wanted me to transfer onto the audi seat and they were happy to assist me in shifting. Since I had no options, I abided and took their assistance to shift onto the regular seat while my chair was taken away and returned at the end of the show when I wanted to leave.

I didn’t mind being inconvenienced as the ticket at PVR Saket was only Rs 50/- while at the DT Cinema at the Promenade that I frequented it was Rs 250/-.  But that was me only on this one instance. If one was to evaluate the accessibility for disabled people at cinema theatres one will be appalled.

Without making the post to technical I must point out that there are a number of people on wheelchairs cannot sit on anywhere else except in their wheelchair because of their impairment. For such people going to PVR Saket will be a waste, as they will not be ‘allowed’ (infringing on their constitutional rights).

Not one cinema theatre in India recognises the special needs of disabled viewers who may have physical, sensory or cognitive impairments. Even if one managed to enter the hall there are no designated space to park a wheelchair and one has to either shift to regular seat or sit on one’s wheelchair either next to the front row or precariously blocking the aisle space. I myself have watched several movies parked alone in one corner away from my friends and family.  Of course special needs of sensory impaired persons is not even known by the cinema management. This is again discriminatory, as disabled viewers are treated not at power with other views.

The sad part is that there are no laws in our country that can protect the rights of disabled people against this discrimination especially from private service providers. The attitude today is that as a disabled person I should be thankful to the service provider to tolerate us and for us to expect access/convenience/equal dignity and service as non-disabled viewer is being over ambitious.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Taj Mahal in a wheelchair

I visited the Taj Mahal a little over two years ago and since then have wanted to share my experience. I am happy that finally I am doing so.

I had gone to Agra with my husband to attend the wedding of my first cousin. Since we were going to be there for two days a visit to the Taj was necessary.

The best time to visit the monument according to me is early morning before the sun is out, because the marble becomes very hot during the day and you are supposed to walk bare feet. I was of course on my wheelchair so the floor temperature had little meaning for me.

The parking is located about 1 km away from the Taj complex entrance. There are eco-friendly battery operated vehicles; rickshaws and tanga’s that are used by visitors to negotiate this 1 km distance. None of these vehicles are accessible to people using wheelchairs. Therefore the biggest challenge is actually wheeling this long distance on a manual wheelchair. I wish I had gone to the Taj on my motorized wheelchair it would have been far easier to wheel the long distance.

As a wheelchair users, it was good to see that the Taj Mahal authorities had put up wooden ramps throughout. The ramp gradient was not to bad either. This was a great improvement from the last I had visited the Taj about five years ago. At that time they had placed wooden planks in the name of ramps so I was pleasantly surprised to see these improved ramps.

Out of the three entrances to the Taj only the East gate has a ramp for a wheelchair user. The other entrances have steps. One can wheel all round the compound without a problem. Only thing being that the ramps are provided at the extreme end of the complex, therefore as a wheelchair user I had to take the longest route possible. The toilets are inaccessible even if one finds a cubicle in the gents section signposted as accessible toilet.

The main mausoleum has 22 steps and is not accessible. But in spite of not being able to see the main mausoleum the visit to the Taj Mahal was amazing and not to be missed for anything

My quick tip for a wheelchair users who visit the Taj is -- visit the monument on your electric wheelchair. If you do go in a manual wheelchair then I strongly recommend you hire a rickshaw puller at the parking to push your wheelchair as there is a lot of wheeling to be done.

 A review of the accessibility at the Taj Mahal

Access Route to the Taj
Entrance to the Complex
þ(only from East Gate)
Ticket Counter
Locker & other Facilities
Main Gate
Drinking Water Facility
Accessible route to the Taj Mahal
þ (very long route)
Central Pavilion
The Mosque & The Meeting Room
The Taj Mahal

Monday, August 22, 2011

Road Traffic Accidents in India

I am a survivor of two road traffic accidents (RTA), both of which changed me life forever. The first one happened when I was 22 years old and it resulted in my losing use of my physical form as I become disabled for life. The second happened when I was 39 years old that resulted in my losing my soul as I lost my soul-mate in it.

It is two years to my husbands death, and as I drown in sadness and hopelessness, I cannot but help feel angry at the way our country functions, things that are important to us as a society, government corruption and apathy towards its citizens.

India has the largest number of deaths due to road traffic accidents. According to a WHO report ‘13 people die every hour in RTAs in the country.’1 I do not have statistics of people who become permanently disabled due to RTAs, though the biggest cause of spinal injuries in India is RTA. I do not even have statistics of families that are devastated because of the demise or permanent disability of their loved ones in a RTA.

But does the government care? Is it an aggressive issue in their road and highway building strategy and process to reduce RTAs? The automobile industry is booming with India becoming the sixth largest motor vehicle/car manufacturer in the world in 2010 and is expected to rise to the fourth position by 2014.2  Sure this is a clear indication of India becoming a developed nation but on the other hand if we reviewed our public transport system, that can reduce the traffic on roads, we would by way down on the international scenario, so to me it seems like a lopsided economy favouring industry, which I have nothing against as long as the economy favours social growth as much.

India spends less than 1% of its GDP on health care of its people. It may sound good but considering India has the highest population in the world, the per capita expense is very low. The state of trauma care in government hospitals in our country could not get worse. To say that the severity of my disability and the death of my husband are a direct outcome of the horrible attitudes of the doctors where all patients are like guinea pigs and the non-existent nursing caret in government hospitals where one is taken to after the accident. Remember most often one is in no state after an accident to take decision, therefore being taken to a government hospital is an automatic process.

Cost of private health care is soring high. Considering that the government doesn’t have adequate infrastructure to cope with the national health care needs, then how can they allow private health care to become so expensive. What right does the government have to levy such high taxes on private healthcare services?

Emergency health care, availability of ambulance with trained staff on highways is still a dream. My severely injured family was transferred from one ambulance to another at least thrice before finally reaching a hospital and it took about ten hours after our accident. All the ambulances were nothing but regular vehicles with not even oxygen cylinders on board. We travelled bleeding, unconscious and mourning on stretchers for ten hours alone without even one paramedical person with us. The only person traveling with us was the driver.

Lets face it Road traffic accidents in India are a high probability. Let me also mention without mincing my words you that in the present scenario there is no value for any body’s life in our society. Therefore, I would really like to urge the society as well as the government to take cognisance of the high number of accidents happening in India work towards reducing them and improving trauma health care.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fight Against Corruption

Today the country stands united in the fight for corruption. For me the fight is not limited to the Lokpal Bill and Anna Hazare. No doubt he is the man who has got the country together on a common platform in a non-violent way and I admire for that.

But for me unless the fight is much larger and more personal to each one of us it may dwindle. The fight for corruption has to also include the fight against discrimination that various marginalised groups face. According to me when our society is matured enough to fight together non-violently, then it is matured enough to know that discrimination has to be looked at the highest corrupt practice.

How can anybody justify excluding some groups of people from mainstream life and say it is not corrupt? Discrimination is a practice not only adopted by the government in the way they design their laws and policies, but also something that is practiced by each one of us for our own benefit or to avoid added effort.

My personal fight is against the discrimination of disabled people. Today just because of the way our societal practices, laws and policies, environmental design, technology design, cultural attitudes are, people with disabilities are discriminated at all fronts.

None of the schools, colleges or universities have infrastructure that can include them. Those with disabilities are forced into a home education instead of being allowed the same experience as everyone else. Additionally in the way education is imparted its inaccessible to most.Getting a good employment is rarely possible – disabled people are considered to be incompetent because of their physical form even if their ability supersedes the ability of  non-disabled people. Finding a non-disabled friend is like a dream, the attitude towards the disabled remains to be either charitable or indifference.

With bizzare government policies like awarding a money prize to people who marry a disabled person, how can we ever thing of their inclusion? Is this policy in itself not corrupt especially putting a woman with disabilities at a greater disadvantage?

But then, who cares if the disabled person cannot use the public transport system? Who cares if they remain uneducated, unemployed, alone and excluded for life? Who cares if they remain as to be the poorest section of the society?

The fact of the matter though remains that if it doesn’t matter to anyone then as a society and as a country we are all at a loss.

There is more than 2% of our population is disabled according to our census. According to UN 10% of world population is disabled and one third of this number resides in India. Imagine if is this large no of people are dependent on the system and public money instead of being contributory to the system – then who is at loss?

Societies indifference to the cause will not help anybody because if they are not mainstreamed then the cost upkeep of disabled people happens from societies money collected as taxes. So take action now and know that inclusion is the only way forward.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

An account of my visit to a government office

Today I had gone to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJE), Shashtri Bhawan to hand over a nomination of a colleague for the National Award. What an experience – it will stay with me for quite a while. It justified yet again my poor opinion of the entire government system.

As I reached there in a car the security guard at the gate asked me to get a pass made from the reception to allow my car in. The driver reversed and we drove around aimlessly trying to find the reception the guard mentioned. It turned out to be some barracks that had been put up next to the entrance. What helped in identifying it was a little common sense and some trial and error. Of course there was no signage to find them.

I sent my carer in to get the pass made because as a wheelchair user it was not accessible to me. It took her twenty minutes to get an entry pass made since by the time she reached it was already 1 pm and like robots that had been functioned in a certain way, everybody seemed to stop working. I wonder the chaos that will happen if the entire country was functioned that way.

Finally she came with the pass and we drove into that important building. I tried entering from the main entrance that lead to the MSJE (no signage was visible). The security guard at the entrance stopped me and directed me to the Facilitation counter instead saying that they would accept the nomination.

So again I got moving trying to locate the facilitation counter for MSJE this time. As before the only way to find it was asking the people around for directions. The facilitation counter was inaccessible too. So I stood outside the office and hailed at the staff to help.

The facilitation staff sent us right back saying that the reception, this time the one located outside the building entrance,  will open at 2 or 215 pm and I should get a pass made and go straight up and submit the form to the Section Officer. It was just 130pm at that time and this mean I needed to wait. The lack of ownership in the way each person performed was irritating me. I asked him sternly whether it was going to be 2pm or 215 pm as for me 15 minutes were important. Unnerved by my sternness ‘2 ‘ he responded.

I pushed my chair right back. As I wheel back Kapil Sibal Hon'ble Minister of Science & Technology and Earth Sciences, got out from his car right in front of me. Seeing this arrogant, rude and crude minister come in my way irritated me a little more.

As aggressively as Mr Sibal I said to the security guard that the facilitation officer had sent me right back and I had to enter now and I was not going to wait till 2 or 215pm. Well the aggression worked.

Again asking for directions from the people around I reached the specified room. As I entered I was shocked to see the state of this government office. There was a dirty stale stench in the room that reminded me of toe jam. As I entered a man was sprawled on two chairs sleeping. I had to squeeze my way in so as not to disturb his slumber. All the women were sitting together at one end of the office sharing lunch and chit chatting. Some other staff had head phones on were glued to the Internet watching live news of Anna Hazare’s arrest.

I asked for the officer I needed to hand over the nomination to the section officer. I was directed towards a passage that again was not accessible for me. Somehow I did manage to hand over the nomination finally. Now after having gone through this sad experience where everything from the building to the systems were inaccessible, I really hope that my colleague receives the much deserved award.

It was eerie in some ways. Each government employee had the same complacent expression on their face as though there was nothing could touch their incompetency. There is no reason for them to worry about the anti corruption movement presently staged in India; or should they be worried? 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Universal Design India Principles

Co-authors: Abir Mullick, Anjlee Agarwal, Balaram S., Debkumar Chakrabarti, Gaurav Raheja, Haimanti Banerjee, Rachna Khare, Ravi Shankar and Shivani Gupta (In alphabetical order)     
copyright: National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad

1. The UDI principles are stand alone universal design ideologies that  focus in Indianness and inclusivity as they relate to age, gender, disability, caste, class, religion, poverty and urban/rural background.
2. UDI principles neither make any connection nor build on the 7 Universal Design Principles. They recognize the overarching importance 7 Principles in the field of universal design.
Principles     Description and     Guidelines 
1     Equitable/ Saman      The design is fair and non-discriminating to diverse users in Indian context
     •     Avoid prejudices against people of all ages, gender, disability, sizes, caste, class and religion.
•     Consider different capabilities of users and build in many levels of engagement.
•     Provide choices in access and use thru flexibility and customization.
•     Allow personalization through inclusion of adjustable and adaptable options.
•     Provide equality in challenge, opportunity and energy requirement.

2     Usable/ Sahaj      The design is operable by all users in Indian context     •     Provide independence, comfort, safety and support during use.
•     Facilitate access, operation and convenience by diverse users.
•     Include adaptations for those experiencing difficulty in use.
•     Provide clarity in use, operation and maintenance to minimize instruction and avoid confusion and error.
•     Adopt simple means to overcome complex operation.
•     Follow cultural norms to address user expectations.
•     Offer multi-sensory feedback to point in the right direction.  
•     Build in intuitive operation and innate understanding of problem.
•     Allow easy adaptation to facilitate use by people with diverse abilities.
•     Prevent costly mistakes and untended consequence from misuse.

3     Cultural / Sanskritik      The design respects the cultural past and the changing present assist all users in Indian context     •     Maintain social and traditional qualities in design.
•     Include Indian idioms to make historic and social connection.
•     Present in many languages for inclusive comprehension.
•     For all castes and society levels.
•     Respond to local context and conditions.
•     Employ appropriate technology to match user expectations.

4     Economy/ Sasta      The design respects affordability and cost considerations for diverse users in Indian context     •     Ensure affordability, durability and maintainability.
•     Use local materials for energy savings and cost effectiveness.
•     Focus on low unit cost through wide distribution.
•     Adopt modular approach to offer choice in features and price range.

5     Aesthetics/ Sundar 
     The design employs aesthetic to promote social integration among users in Indian context     •     Employ aesthetic to enhance universal appeal and use.
•     Allow personalizing aesthetics through flexibility, adaptability and modularity of colour, form, texture and interaction.
•     Employ appearance to inform use and safety.
•     Bridge wide range of meaning and comprehension gaps.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Disability Inclusion in Drought and Food Crisis Emergency Response

Disability Inclusive Action Plans
  • Amend ‘Rapid Assessment’ forms to ensure pro-active registration of persons with disabilities, for all relief, recovery and preparedness activities.
  • Set indicators which identify approximately 15% of the target group as persons with disabilities and older persons. Disaggregate data to monitor how effectively the program is reaching this group.
  • Prioritise vulnerable groups including persons with disabilities and older persons through separate distribution queues. Ensure children access Vitamin A and vaccination campaigns.
  • Where possible, involve persons with disabilities and ‘Disabled People’s Organisations’ in planning and operations in order to benefit from their expertise.
  • Identify service providers who can assist in providing outreach and follow up with persons with disabilities who are unable to attend distribution points.
  • Ensure linkages with existing community based services to build up a support network.
  • In camps, locate persons with disabilities close to water, sanitation, health posts, food and fuel distribution points, and to well lit, secure areas.
  • Prioritise persons with disabilities for reunification with family, carers or community members, who know their individual requirements.
  • Prioritise children with disabilities for routine protection monitoring and ensure they are able to access and do access ‘child friendly spaces’.
  • Ensure that Gender Based Violence protection activities are including women with disabilities.
  • Meet the specific needs persons with disabilities and older persons may have, including for nutrient dense foods, sunlight exposure for Vitamin D, feeding spoons or straws, access to essential medications and mobility devices (1).
  • Provide information about the availability of food and services through various formats accessible to persons with vision, hearing or intellectual impairments.
  • Ensure distribution points, water, sanitation and other facilities are physically accessible, through the provision of ramps, rails, appropriate seating and adapted water and food storage containers.
  • Ensure all persons have the means to carry supplies to their homes or shelters.
  • Be patient and respectful to people with psychosocial or intellectual impairments, or ask if they would like to bring someone to represent them.
  • Ensure inclusion of persons with disabilities in all longer term food security and community development initiatives, including in livelihood (e.g. micro-finance, agriculture, gardening, livestock keeping, paid employment), education, health, social inclusion and empowerment (Community Based Rehabilitation approaches).
  • Advocate strongly to governments, donors and NGOs for disability inclusion in all emergency, disaster preparedness and development activities.
Further information: Handicap International have prepared a comprehensive ‘Disability Checklist for Emergency Response’ which can be accessed athttp://www.handicap-international.de/fileadmin/redaktion/pdf/disability_checklist_booklet_01.pdf

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Disability and the UK Visa

I had been invited for a business meeting to London on a short notice. I knew getting a visa for UK was not an easy task at all and needed time. I asked the company I was going to meet and who was sponsoring my trip to send invitation letters for me and my carer ASAP. The invitation letters arrived and they stated in very clear English :

“Shivani Gupta a leading authority on accessibility in India ..…… In this respect her presence is urgently required for a meeting in London from ………(date). Since Shivani Gupta is disabled she will need to be accompanied by her carer (carers name)

All expenses for both of them regarding travel and hotel accommodation will be borne by our company.”

I had travelled to Spain with my carer just a couple of months back and had the entire set of all other documentation required ready with me. I filled our visas under ‘Business Visa’ category as the invitation letter said that I was travelling for a business meeting my personal carer was to accompany me. Along with it I gave a visa fees of about Rs5000/- each and all other financial documents they required.

At the time of submitting our forms the lady at the counter informed me that I would need to fill another form for my carer as she was going to be in my service during the travel. And that the fee for the other visa form was about Rs 18,000/- 

I was shocked. I thought she didn’t understand my case. I tried to clarify

‘…bbut she had an invitation letter in her name stating that her trip is sponsored by the company and we were going to be in UK for only 4 days.’

‘I know’ she responded, ‘but you still need to fill the other visa form’

‘but Rs 18,000/- for 4 days……doesn’t it sound ridiculous?’

‘Its your wish madam’ she responded ‘you can fill the business visa form if you like, but I am just informing you.’

Rs 18,000/- for 4 days was not something I could afford, so taking a chance I filled the business visa form, deposited Rs 10,000/- as fees for both of us. I was positive to get the visa as:
1.     We had an invitation letter for both of us
2.     We had adequate supporting financial worth papers.
3.     My carer had lived in the UK with me for nearly 2 years in the past and
4.     She had a live Schengen visa in her passport.

To my disappointment her visa was rejected on the pretext that she wasn’t going for a business trip in fact was traveling in my service as a carer. Sure enough bit in other words it meant that if I had filled the Rs 18,000/- visa form she would have got the visa.

I found the matter very discriminatory especially after the UNCRPD is in force that talks about non-discriminatory immigration rules.

Is it not discriminatory that I am required to pay a heightened visa fee of Rs18,000/- for my personal carer’s visa just because  I cannot travel without her?

It is more like a fine I need to pay to the UK Government because I am disabled and require a personal carer.

The repercussion of this on me was that I was unable to travel also and had to miss my business meeting and miss the future business prospects just because my carer was refused a visa. Is it fair?

My wheelchair is not my identity

I became disabled person when I was 22 years old in a car accident. There was a very marked change in people’s behaviour towards me, and o...