Mumbai is no city for disabled people
Survey finds public buildings across Mumbai woefully lacking in accessibility and facilities for disabled people
Sminu Jindal, founder of Svayam Foundation. Pic/Suresh Karkera
For a disabled person in Mumbai, even the most basic places and facilities like drinking water or an accessible toilet are out of reach. In a recent audit by Svayam Foundation, it was found that a shocking 96% of public buildings and spaces (including hospitals, educational institutes, administrative offices and police stations) don't have an accessible toilet for the disabled, while 80% don't have ramps for wheelchair access.
"The shocking part is that even crucial places like railway stations are not disabled-friendly. Even though they have ramps, these have not been built keeping a disabled person in mind. Can a wheelchair really go on such steep slopes?" said Sanu Nair, director of Svayam. A total of 53 institutes and buildings were audited by the organisation, which found the most accessible building to be the Ellappa Balaram Bldg at JJ Hospital in Byculla, while the least accessible was Worli Walkway.
Accessibility for all
"While doing the survey, we found that none of the institutions had emergency evacuation provisions for the elderly and persons with disabilities. On Carter Road, we met a pregnant lady who fell near the jogging area and injured herself. It's not that we are talking only about the physically challenged, we talking about accessibility for all," said Nair.
Sminu Jindal, founder of Svayam Foundation, explained: "There is never a lack of funds for any government, they just don't know how to use it, or the money doesn't reach the right people. For example, the earlier contractors that BMC had weren't sensitive enough to put themselves in the shoes of a disabled person and then take decisions."
Jindal, along with 100 residents of Bandra, recently inaugurated the initiative #Reclaim, under which they presented a few ideas and solutions to the BMC to improve facilities for disabled citizens. "There is a lot of focus on high-end designs and the look of infrastructure, but not so much about accessibility for the disabled," she added.
34-year-old Swati Gupta is wheelchair-bound and finds most places difficult to access. "The government has never really cared about how the disabled are treated in public. Carter Road doesn't have a single bathroom, Marine Drive doesn't have a slope that will allow us to go there and sit like everybody else. The toilets that are available are not disabled-friendly," she said, adding, "A disabled person, when bound by space, gets suffocated, anxious and depressed. It's not just inconvenient, it's taking away our fundamental right to public spaces."
Ramping up votes
It's only during elections that the city's leaders pay any attention to the needs of disabled people, and that too, only on polling day. "Political parties make sure to put ramps and make the voting booths disabled-friendly, but they never talk about our needs any other time. It's absolutely shameful that the authorities only focus on the disabled on voting day, because they need each vote. These infrastructural changes should start from the government offices, where the disabled face more problems than others," said Anil Joseph, President of the Perry Roads Residents Association.
Civic officials now intend to incorporate some of the disabled-friendly solutions. Asked why the BMC hadn't thought of doing this earlier, assistant commissioner of H/Ward Sharad Ughade said, "We always take steps to improve the situation for the disabled. Saying that this is the first time we are looking at it, would be wrong. This time, the NGO approached us with certain solutions."
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