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Disability rights groups protest against Dehradun pool for discriminating against disabled adults

The Dehradun Disability Forum, an alliance of over 20 disability rights groups in Dehradun has come together in solidarity after 12 adults with autism were allegedly told by a local swimming academy to come for lessons at separate hours as other pool members were uncomfortable swimming with them.

You can swim but not with everyone else. That's the blatantly discriminatory message sent out by a private swimming academy in Dehradun to 17 adults with autism who had signed up for swimming lessons at the academy.

The adults, members of Arunima, a residential centre for people with autism, had paid up the entire monthly fee of Rs 2,000 for the lessons and started going for the classes to the Varada Tennis and Swimming Academy on 1 May.

The centre met with all the requirements, even disclosing who had mild epilepsy as the condition can be risky in a pool. Some parents also gave an undertaking taking personal guarantee for their children. However, within a few days, they were told to change the time slots and also asked to come in one group as other clients were not comfortable swimming with 'these people'. Matters came to a head on 24 May.

The last session we went for was on 24 May. On that day, the academy called us and said we should send our members not the usual hours but from 12.30 to 1.30 PM as they had a special group coming. After the session ended, we were told this would be the hours for us from now on. - Aparna Das, Founder-Director, Arunima: Project for Persons with Autism

When Das and her team pointed that the timings were inconvenient as it would interfere with mealtimes and medications, the academy owner allegedly made statements that were offensive.

"He started saying things like "I'm trying to accommodate them, but I am losing clients because of you' and that he could not keep doing charity, says Das. "We took a call not to not go anymore. The pool owner has accused the centre of not sending staff members with the trainees, charges that Das denies.

The incident has angered disability rights groups in Dehradun. The Dehradun Disability Forum, a group of 20 disability rights organisations, issued a public statement, saying "Discrimination on the basis of disability is illegal, morally wrong and destroys the very basis of what our country stands for. We believe in an India where every person is equal and enjoys the same rights as anyone else.

A petition has also been started to protest the pool owner's actions quickly gathered over 1,000 signatures. A letter of intent has also been drafted by the forum to be sent to the owner of the swimming pool academy.

There is also a growing call to go beyond such petitions and seek legal recourse when such instances happen. Earlier this year, the Guwahati High Court sent out a strong message when it ordered Gold's Gym and the Assam government to pay Rs 50,000/- each as penalty in response to a 2011 writ petition filed by Arman Ali, Executive Director, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) against inaccessible, disabled-unfriendly services by Gold's Gym.

Many believe it's high time the private sector was made accountable for the services the disabled community uses. "We need to ask for punitive actions against anyone enforcing discriminatory action, says Ruchika Sethi, parent to a child with disability, "The government should also make the law work. It has to walk the talk and not say you make a case of it. There should also be strict measures taken by the Disability Commission in Uttarakhand because for every 100 such incidents, only one gets reported so they should invest more in awareness.

ALSO READ:"An empowering moment" - Arman Ali speaks on the penalty on a private company for discriminating on disability grounds

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