Insensitive by design

Civic infrastructure in major Indian cities still fails to provide for the needs of people with disabilities.

Every year, the monsoon brings with it an outpouring of angst against the poor state of our civic infrastructure. This is completely justified. But spare a thought for a category of people for whom accessing infrastructure is a daily struggle, no matter what the season. According to the WHO and World Bank report on disability, 2011, approximately 15 per cent of the world's population lives with a disability. Applying that statistic to India, there must be about 186 million people with disabilities in the country. Neither public infrastructure, nor awareness, nor the sensitivity of government personnel, are in any way commensurate with this number. Recent reports of the humiliating and insensitive treatment of an amputee by CISF personnel at the Mumbai airport only confirm this.

Despite a major overhaul of Delhi's infrastructure for the Commonwealth games in 2010, accessing pedestrian facilities — something that most people take for granted — is still a nightmare for disabled persons. For the most part, footpaths themselves are non-existent. Where they do exist, access onto and along them is still a major concern due to issues as innocuous as uneven or steep kerb ramps, poor paving and myriad obstructions. Often, they are too high to be accessed because they have no kerb ramps at all. At other times, access to them is blocked by bollards intended to prevent vehicular traffic from getting onto them. While motor cycles and scooters still find a way onto footpaths, people using wheelchairs or crutches find it difficult to bypass these obstructions.

During the recent "refurbishment" and beautification of footpaths in some localities of Delhi, tactile tiles — intended to assist pedestrians who are visually impaired — were incorporated into pavement designs. But they have mostly been used for decorative purposes. Many a contractor and engineer thought the bright yellow of these tiles was intended to visually jazz up pavements. It is a travesty that these guides, provided to orient and navigate a blind pedestrian, often lead head-on into trees, poles, manholes etc.

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