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Access to medical facilities & concerns of people with disabilities - Guest column by Tapas Bharadwaj

In the guest column for this week, Tapas Bharadwaj, who is studying law at Amity Law School Delhi, raises some important concerns regarding the lack of access to medical facilities.

People with disabilities have to visit a hospital at one point or another. Primarily, we go there for getting disability certificates and sometimes for treatment. The big question is whether a person with disability approach the hospital or a local health centre on their own? Another thing to be looked at is whether accessible facilities like washrooms, signage and tactile paths are available.

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 talks about barrier-free access to hospitals. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2006, ratified by India in 2007, and forms the basis of the Act, also talks about the equal rights of disabled people and their equal participation in all spheres of life.

Over two-and-a-half years after the Act came into force, has the medical sector changed for a person with disability? A close look shows that there is minimum independence in this regard.

Many barriers

The challenge starts when you reach the hospital and are told to fill out a registration form. This process is inaccessible for people with visual disabilities as the forms are not accessible. When you finally get to a doctor, the equipment there is inaccessible. Like the readings on the instruments. Same is the case with the medical kits provided for health checkup at the home. The need of the day is accessible medical equipment for persons with visual disabilities!

The other challenge relates to the height of the tables and chairs used by doctors. These should be standardised so person with locomotor disabilities do not face problems. For people who are deaf and hard of hearing, there are no sign language interpreters available. Studies show there are only 250 sign language interpreters. Much work needs to be done in this field as lack of such facilities makes disabled people totally dependent on family members for medical treatment. There are issues of privacy as well.

Another concern relates to medicines prescribed. How is a person with visual disability to know what medicines have been prescribed? In this age of digitisation, doctors should give prescriptions in digital form. Names of medicines should be printed in an accessible format. What if medicines get mixed up? Labelling standards for medicines must be prescribed so that access to health becomes a reality and not just words in the Act.

The improved medical facilities will not just live up to the mantra of Development for All but also promote equality in the truest sense. India believes in promoting diversity, but one must remember that diversity will be the strength of our nation where there is an inclusive and integrated environment for all.

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