‘We have no concept about being a caring, wheelchair-accessible nation” - Guest Column by Nisha Jamvwal
TV anchor, social entrepreneur and columnist Nisha Jamvwal is one of the persons behind a crucial petition in the Bombay High Court that is turning the spotlight on the poor accessibility infrastructure in Mumbai like never before. In our Guest Column, she talks about what led her to take up this issue.
In my last apartment block, Casablanca, located among the affluent of Bombay, I had to fight my entire building society alone because they were too insensitive to understand that a person in a wheelchair might need to use the lift as priority.
I was greeted with aggression and outrage as people insisted on following the 'first come first serve' very self-righteously. In nearly every other country when a person in a wheelchair needs to use the lift, because other options are scant, people disembark to make way for the person on the wheelchair.
Most people on wheelchairs shift to the United States to ensure a good quality of life for themselves. A world with ramps, special wheelchair parking spaces, broad doors to enter public spaces, lifts at multileveled spaces and MOST importantly, restrooms. Is it not just the most basic requirement to have wheelchair accessible restrooms?
We are said to be the fastest growing economy after China, on the road to becoming a world class superpower, an important nation aspiring to a place on the United Nations Security Council. I have to say, however, that we have no concept or understanding about being a sensitive, caring, wheelchair accessible nation. Changing this has been my only greatest, most important, social cause from the year 2000 onwards and every year that I live beyond. It's my mission for the rest of my life in India.
Our attempt is to push for public accessible restrooms, special handicap parking, and accessibility at entertainment spaces like cinemas, restaurants, and hotels.
We wish to amend policy by lobbying with the government to change legislation so wheelchair accessibility in public spaces becomes mandatory all over India, even in villages. All new constructions and infrastructure must incorporate these measures as a norm rather than have people fighting for basics like being able to enter railway compartments, aerobridges, narrow doors and restrooms.
I believe the problem stems from our general lack of concern for human life in this country. Wheelchair accessibility is our cause, but the root of the problem lies much deeper. It lies in lack of compassion for fellow human beings. This insensitivity to the differently abled is just one very apparent facet of the deeper social malaise especially seen in India and other less developed countries where it is every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost. If we need to be viewed as a global destination we need to have mandatory accessibility.
Abha Singh and I have taken up this proactive mandate to nudge the system to address builders, and people in general, to incorporate infrastructure changes and to trigger a radical change in their attitudes. This is necessary for India to become tourist friendly and attract a world audience, something Prime Minister Narendra Modi has expressed a desire for.
Given that one of the election mandates for PM Modi was accessibility, the entire country MUST all revisit and redesign their access incorporating ramps and wider entryways to allow for special needs accessibility.