Accessibility November 20, 2020
Mixed reactions to Kerala High Court order regarding accessible roads & footpaths in Kochi
This week the Kerala High Court ordered the Kochi Municipal Corporation to ensure that all roads and footpaths in the city be made accessible for people with disabilities by 31 March. Welcoming the news, disability groups hope this order will translate into action.
31 March. That’s the deadline set by the Kerala High Court for the Kochi Municipal Corporation (KMC) and Public Works Department (PWD) to bring about a makeover for the city. A makeover that involves repairing roads and footpaths to ensure they are accessible for people with disabilities.
The court has said this has to be done in three months’ time with a report submitted on the details on or before the end of March. The corporation and PWD, it said, was duty bound to make travel on footpaths and roads convenient for disabled people.
Court cracks down on authorities
The order was passed after Dr P A Mary Anitha, Chairman, Centre for Empowerment and Charitable Society, Kochi, filed a petition citing the hassles faced by people with disabilities due to the lack of basic infrastructure.
Appropriate ramps must be built as well and all obstructions and barricades on the roads must be cleared to ensure a safe and smooth passage in the city, said the court.
While welcoming the announcement, Meera U Menon, a person with disability and Kochi resident, struck a note of scepticism. “If the Kerala High Court order is implemented, that would be very good news indeed. We must see if that happens”.
Making Kochi accessible, says Meera, will open new avenues for the disabled community. “Kochi is the hub for education and job opportunities and making the city accessible would encourage more disabled people to come here. It would also send a positive message to other cities in Kerala and hopefully motivate them to initiate similar changes”.
Unni Maxx, Secretary of Thanal, a group that works for the empowerment of people with paraplegia, is also unsure how much of the order will translate into action.
We were told that even the Kochi Metro would be accessible to people with disabilities but that has not happened. Blind people face so many problems while using the Metro, they can’t even walk properly. So, I am a little doubtful whether the court order will be followed through in action. – Unni Maxx, Disability Rights Activist
George Thomas, a wheelchair user, and founder of Thiruvananthapuram-based NGO Freedom on Wheels is working to make his city a role model city in wheelchair accessibility. The court order, George points out, is based on rules that already exist.
“The court has passed a good order, but these rules were passed in 1992 and remain on paper”. Even where they are implemented, there is lack of uniformity. “Take ramps for instance. There are many government buildings with ramps but barely any of them are in the proper ratio. This makes them hard to access, even dangerous for wheelchair users. So, it is important that when the rules are followed, they are followed as per specifications”.
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