The Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan is not fault-proof and there are gaps, questions, doubts and scepticism. However, the government has taken up this issue and from the sound and look of the campaign, it will not disappear too soon
24 September 2015 was a red-letter day. A historic moment at the housefull YB Chavan Auditorium where bureaucrats, ministers, corporate honchos , education institutional heads, public sector units (PSUs), non-governmental organisations (NGOs), government staff and friends with visual, hearing, speech, physical impairments’ like polio, spinal cord injury, muscular dystrophy gathered for the inauguration of a nationwide flagship campaign, “Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan” for achieving universal accessibility for People With Disabilities (PWDs).
Bright red-carpeted ramps were laid out for wheelchair users with student volunteers guiding through registrations, elevator, auditorium and washroom. There was a sign language interpreter throughout the conference. The volunteers led the guest with blindness to their seats. The sign language National Anthem by the children of Ali Yavar Jung National Institute for the Hearing Handicapped (AYJNIHH) energised everyone for the sessions ahead. This signified that it is just not another scheme by the government but their heart, mind and soul is into making it successful. The detailing in planning and execution projected a professional launch campaign. Every one cheered with hope in their hearts and a broad smile on their faces that truly the 80 million estimated people (26.8 million as per Government of India-GOI figure) with disability in India would have the opportunity to access education, employment, transport, health care, recreation, sports and more, equally and with dignity!
This campaign in one stroke “acknowledges” the existence and the Rights of People with Disabilities unconditionally!
With the guidance and leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the mantle for initiating and implementing this much needed creative campaign is in the hands of Mukesh Jain, Joint secretary, Department of Empowerment of People with Disabilities, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. His credentials evoke awe: IIM (A) 1985, IPS, IG Police 1989-2010, Harvard 2005 and he has served the Ministry of Commerce & Industry. Listening to his enthusiastic, extempore speech unravelling the strategy, which comes across as BOLD, INCLUSIVE, COLLABORATIVE, STRATEGIC, and INNOVATIVE. He admits that they are a small team and the task humungous and they invite the involvement of all the stakeholders for fruitful outcomes of this campaign.
What is the Accessible India Campaign about?
Increase the accessibility of the physical environment.
Enhance the accessibility and usability of Public Transport.
Enhance the accessibility & usability of information & communication.
The objective and targets for the Accessible India Campaign, (highlights):
• Four cities in Maharashtra- Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur and Nasik to be made completely disabled friendly.
• A web portal for crowd sourcing the requests regarding inaccessible places is in the offing. And so is a mobile app to click and upload on the Accessible India Portal. It will also invite PSUs and corporates to partner in the campaign for Access audits and conversions.
• 50 buildings in metros will be made fully accessible to persons with disabilities via retrofitting of ramps, lifts, toilets, and signage. 75 important railway stations and all international airports will be made fully accessible by July 2016. Enhance the pool of sign language interpreters by 200 by July 2019. Ensuring that at least 50% of all web sites and public documents of the central and the state governments meet accessibility standards (2019).
The “Accessible India” campaign is a magic wand, which will eliminate obstacles and barriers to indoor and outdoor facilities including schools, medical facilities and work places. These would include buildings, footpaths, curb cuts and obstacles that block the flow of pedestrian traffic. Transportation systems and information and communication, TV programs would also have sign language and captions making it accessible to all.
Three cheers for our new “Accessible India Campaign.”
A child with disability today is dependent on his parents and family members-caregivers for basic activities- for e.g.- If she has spinal cord injury and living on the 2nd floor flat without a lift , she has to be carried in her wheelchair physically. So in the school bus, classes, tuitions sessions, movie theatre, and parks she has to sometimes forgo computer and sports classes as a wheelchair cannot navigate the obstacles leading there. The mother has to visit the school twice or thrice to assist her with her toileting needs. So we have a non-confident, weak, shy youth- not very sure of getting a job, earning a salary, maintaining a family and enjoying a full life.
The new initiative will enable the youth with disability to have equal opportunities to contribute and grow. Imagine by 2019, even 50% of the 80 million PWDs have equal access to education, jobs and enterprise. It would mean that much more growth and prosperity for India.
The campaign is not fault proof, there are gaps, questions, doubts, trepidation, and scepticism- Can the Government of India be trusted to execute this ambitious plan?
Whatever the case –the fact is that a bureaucrat has taken up this issue and from the sound and look of it – it will not evaporate too soon!
There are some loose- ends but the PWDs and the NGOs actively perusing the cause of the disabled are both positive and happy. As for the first time in the history of India, the root cause preventing them to rise and shine is being tackled in a coordinated and systematic effort.
So now, there is no time to whine and cry and take pot shots at the gaps. Now is the time to join hands to work together towards a bright Indian horizon beckoning the huge dignified disabled population!
Sugamya translates to reaching in a dignified manner. Heads up!
(Dr Ketna L Mehta is an educationist, editor, author and Founder Trustee of Nina Foundation that works for the rehabilitation of economically and socially disadvantaged people with spinal injuries. www.ninafoundation.org)