Making India Differently-Abled Friendly

By Tavanpal Singh

New Delhi: Disabled. This is what you are categorised as in a country like India when you suffer from a physical limitation. But does the word really mean that the person affected doesn’t have any abilities and is worthless?

Well, the answer is no, because everyone in this world has certain weaknesses and certain strengths. However, people with physical limitations are unable to focus on their strengths because most daily tasks become a challenge for them.

The reasons for this might seem very petty and minor to any other individual, but for me they were always something that disturbed me and made me ask: “Why should I compromise? Is it my fault?

Being a patient of cerebral palsy, I always knew that I will not be able to achieve 100% mobility. So my full concentration, along with the doctors who treated me, was on improving my functional independence. But soon I realised that my surroundings will always be a hindrance to that.

Public transport in India is definitely not disabled-friendly. A person with restricted mobility cannot think of boarding a train or a bus independently. Every time I travel by train, I have to ask people to help me get down from the train coach. Though DTC buses in the national Capital have ramps, it is very rare that bus conductors pull it down for a wheelchair user.

My physical limitations compelled me to pursue graduation from my hometown of Amritsar, a fact that I have not been able to digest easily even now, because it limited the opportunities that I could have got. You might now wonder, why didn’t I go to a better place for higher education? It is because a ‘disabled’ person cannot think of moving independently to a different city.

People with special needs require an environment wherein they get the amenities that will help them lead a comfortable life, just like anybody else.

I recently started using a battery-operated wheelchair when I moved to Delhi to pursue my Masters in Convergent Journalism. However, the use of the wheelchair was severely limited due to the inadequate infrastructure. This led to nothing but frustration. By simply building ramps a place does not become accessible. Every road needs to be re-designed so as to make them suitable for people using mobility aids.

As per government regulations, three percent of the total seats are reserved for the differently-abled in every course in every government university. But no one bothers to check whether the contents of these courses are in accordance with the limitations of people like me. If not, they cause a lot of unnecessary mental and physical harassment.

The curriculum needs to be redesigned. Modifications in the curriculum should be done according to the restrictions of people with special needs. For instance, I am unable to effectively take part in the video recording assignments. I often wonder how I will take part in field assignments. Though the college authorities try to accommodate me, I often question why students like me need to face all this in the first place. Can’t the course structure be redesigned?

I am always in need of a scribe for writing exams. Finding a good scribe is a challenge every time, because most universities in India don’t have effective scribe banks. So the trend is to bring your own scribe if you want to perform well. The quality of the scribes is very low and this is usually because of the assumption that the performance level of a disabled candidate will also be equally low.

Government universities especially need to focus on developing good quality scribe banks. They should approve scribes only after proper screening. Scribes should be provided for every exam and not just entrance exams.

The most important issue to be addressed is the lack of priority given to differently-abled students by the authorities. The approach should be focused on a design that helps all, rather than addressing it on an individual basis. One needs to understand that the issue needs attention on a mass level.

Please sign this petition to demand this much-needed change.