Dr. Avnish Jolly, 9th December, 2008 : Activists working for the rights of disabled people have called for making the Indian parliament disabled-friendly to serve as a model building and help promote the cause of making public places accessible to the physically challenged.
"Making the historic Sansad Bhavan accessible to persons with disabilities will go a long way to help the disabled population get access public space without any barriers," Leonard Cheshire Disability (LCD)regional representative KR Rajendra said.
Forty rights activists from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Brunei and Malaysia had gathered here for a three-day regional conference on Disability in Commonwealth Asia, which ended yesterday. LCD was the joint sponsor of the conference along with the inter-governmental organisation Commonwealth Foundation.
Rajendra said that we will soon submit an action plan to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment on how to turn the entire building of parliament accessible to the disabled and most of the public buildings in the country are not accessible, causing a major block in the growth and development of disabled people.
The conference adopted a resolution calling all countries to work on aspects like greater accessibility to building and information for disabled, right to education and livelihood for disabled, wiping out the gap between policies for disabled and their practices, health and rehabilitation measures for disabled and betterment of conditions for women disabled population.
India is home to 60 million disabled people. Of them, 48 per cent are visually impaired, 28 per cent are movement impaired, 14 per cent are mentally disabled and 10 per cent are hearing and speech impaired, according to ‘People with Disabilities in India: From Commitments to Outcomes’?a report prepared by World Bank in collaboration with the Indian Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.
According to an estimate, the world has 650 million people with disabilities. Around 80 per cent of them live in developing countries, with the largest number in Asia. Rights activists from India have also decided to appeal to the government to allocate three per cent resources on issues related to disabled people as mandated in the 11th five year plan.
"The disabled continue to remain an invisible minority at the bottom of the list of priorities. We cannot see them regularly in public places like roads, parks and on buses because these are not accessible to the disabled.
"Leave alone the old buildings, even the newly constructed ones do not have any provisions for the disabled," New Delhi-based Disabled Rights Group President and Commonwealth Disability Forum Secretary Javed Abidi said.
"The parliament building is a heritage site for all Indians and if it is turned into a disabled friendly zone, then we can hope that rest of the buildings and public spaces in India will turn accessible to the disabled," Abidi added.
The parliament house is a circular building designed by British architects Sir Edwin Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker in 1912.
The rights activists said besides making the entire Parliament building a barrier free zone for disabled, there should be reserved parking and drop-off area for their vehicles, within 20 meters of its entrance.
The area should be marked with symbols and a system should be put in place to ensure that non-disabled people do not use the reserved parking space.
"An information board carrying details of these facilities has to be set up at the entrance of the building itself, with appropriate signposts installed at various points inside the parliament house to help physically challenged visitors," Rajendra said.
Introduction of Braille symbols, first hand help, ramps, railings, lifts and accessible toilets are the other provisions which the activists believe should be put at Parliament House to make it a disabled friendly zone.