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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Facility for persons with disability



ONE of the clauses within the Persons with Disabilities Act passed in 1995 stated that educational institutions need to have facilities and infrastructure in place so that they are readily accessible to students who are physically challenged. Since then, 13 years have lapsed and colleges under Delhi University (DU) are still grappling with the finer details of a disabledfriendly infrastructure. 

   “It is not that there has been no initiative taken in this regard but the rate of progress has been alarmingly slow,” says Javed Abidi, executive director, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP). “Thirteen years is a long gestation period and DU authorities should have gone beyond displaying mere intent to actual implementation,” asserts Abidi. Usually implementation of projects in our country suffers because of the paucity of funds. So does this explain things here as well? “The UGC and ministry of social justice have always been forthcoming with funds and, moreover, to install basic things like a ramp, lift and toilet one does not need to make a huge investment. The money could have easily been channelised from general welfare funds of colleges,” opines Abidi. 

   Abidi, however, does acknowledge that in the last six months, colleges under DU have been more proactive than before and consequently there have been a few changes in infrastructure such as lifts and ramps, and in teaching aid like more Braille books. But, he feels, it lacks quality. “The ramps have been installed without proper handrails, signs have been put up in places where they are not noticeable,” he adds. 

   A high court order passed in January 21, 2008, helped to expedite the process undertaken by colleges to make their campuses disabled-friendly. This order directed colleges to provide the requisite facilities as included in the Persons with Disabilities Act. 

   Another outcome of the order was that DU in association with Samarthyam, a civil society organisation, launched a project ‘Accessible University of Delhi’ to make all colleges disabled-friendly. As a first step, all colleges were required to submit a status report in terms of their existing infrastructure for physically-challenged students. “But even this first step has met with unsatisfactory response as despite repeated reminders being issued to the various colleges by the Disabled Rights Group many colleges have not submitted their status report as yet,” says Abidi. “Also most colleges who have submitted their status report have not mentioned the existing situation with respect to their hostels,” he adds. 

   What does DU have to say? “While it is definitely true that the pace of implementation has been very slow till now, but things are bound to change for the better very soon,” says Komal Kamra, a member of the Equal Opportunities Cell (EOC), DU. “I am saying this because after the EOC was formed a couple of years back we have been relentlessly working to identify the issues which have led to roadblocks in terms of implementation,” she adds. 

  Kamra says that firstly there is a need to develop and strengthen links between colleges, social welfare organisations, funding bodies and suppliers. “Most efforts in the past have been random and, hence, did not prove effective. Establishing links will ensure integration of efforts and will ultimately lead to a significant difference,” explains Kamra. Secondly, there is an urgent need to sensitise engineers, architects, designers and construction labourers who are involved in conceptualising and creating the infrastructure so that they adhere to norms and specifications and deliver work of high quality and precision. 

   On the submission of status reports, Kamra says that colleges are working hard in assessing the situation and they are being conscientious about making precise statements. “Though there is a delay, I am sure each college will eventually submit their report,” she says. 

   Deepak Pental, vice-chancellor, DU, says that in the future there would be timelines for every activity undertaken to make the university disabled-friendly. “This is a reiteration of our seriousness and commitment towards getting the work done,” he adds. Pental is of the opinion that the entire effort should be more professionalised and there should be specialised suppliers for providing specific resources, for example, suppliers who can provide signages. 

   Anjlee Agarwal of Samarthyam asserts that the organisation has recommended to the colleges to allocate funds from their general maintenance budget for infrastructure, which is not cost-intensive. ‘This will ensure that some work is in progress even while colleges await sanction of funds from the UGC and ministry of social justice,” says Agarwal. 

   According to T D Dhariyal, deputy chief commissioner, Office of Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, “It is heartening to see that DU is embarking on specific initiatives which are result-oriented. It is hoped that very soon DU will set an example for other universities in the country.”


   Sunil Sharma


Dil Se Desi Group


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