Saturday, 1 November 2014

A WDD with a difference

World Disabulity Day is apparently `observed' on December 3rd every year. This `observation' can be done in one of at least two ways:

(i) you could reserve one particular date on the calendar on which date, every year, you announce to the world that `some of your best friends are freaks' and on which date you will tell the whole world that everybody must be kind to freaks and strive to fill the world with `freak lovers'; or

(ii) you could tell yourself (and the world) that it is idotic to define some specific way somebody is different as `freakishness', realise that everybody is a `freak' in some way, and that the intelligent way to make the world a better place to live in is to revel in the existence of differences between us, and to strive for the ideal of `universal design' whose inclusive nature made no concessions for a design which singles out certain `freaks' for not being able to use that which has been designed in an inconsiderate and unthinking manner. (For instance, having a restaurant which can only be reached by climbing a flight of `only three' steps from road-level is a perfact instance of exclusive design which disallows clients who need to use a wheelchair.)

And there was this e-discussion between some people in my group (calling itself the DRA - short for Disability Rights Alliance) on how to utilise the forthcoming `World Disability Day' to clarify the distinction between the two perceptions/attitudes in (i) and (ii) above, when the following brilliant suggesstion came up: `gherao vehicles parked in such a way as to render pavements inaccessible'. (The freaky non-Indian reader of this piece should seek a `normal' Indian's aid in understanding what `gherao' means.)

(Thanks are due to my former student Madhushree for capturing the essence of my glee at the prospect in this cartoon she whipped up in a couple of days.)

This suggestion was just after my heart. Fortunately, enough members of DRA were happy with the idea of doing `something' about accessible pavements. In addition to several wheelchairs parked - preferably with occupants - encircling a motorcycle  or car parked across a pavement, I have fond hopes of executing one of my pet dreams (born in a freaky disabled mathemtician's mind, naturally) of parking my wheelchair right in the way of people trying to access a flight of steps - leading to a store or the ATM of some bank or any commercial place, with a `simple mathematical problem' (which would be totally incomprehensible to one without some mathematical training, but would be as simple for me as climbing those three steps would be for them) which people would have to solve before I would move my wheelchair out of their way, and pointing out that freaks ill-equipped to solve the problem unfortunately had no place in my world.

I await December 3rd with ghoulish desire - to see people's reaction to this world with roles reversed.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

This is what my people say

 I have been blessed with having been accepted as a member of a loosely knit group of individuals who call themselves the Disability Rights Alliance which contains quite an erudite and right-thinking group of people - from legally trained minds to people with decades of experience of work in `the sector', and here is what one of them had to say about this contentious RPWD Bill of 2014:

   A reading of the Bill reveals that there is a complete lack of
   understanding of the approach of the UNCRPD on the part of the drafters.
   From abridged definitions (which are extremely crucial and clear under the
   convention), to plain callousness in the arbitrary and unresearched 'list'
   of disabilities, the RPWD Bill fails utterly in its lofty self stated
   objective to implement the UNCRPD. Some of the most crucial provisions of
   the UNCRPD which were celebrated in the disability movement – the adoption of the social model of definition of disability in Article 1, the concept
   of reasonable accommodation under Article 2, the right to full legal
   capacity under Article 12, the right to independent living under Article
   19, the right to accessibility under Article 9, respect for home and the
   family under Article 23, the right to inclusive education under Article 24,
   and the right to participation in political and public life, have all been
   either diluted or outright ignored by the drafting committee of this Bill.

And what I liked best about her summary of our various discussions on the topic was her

CONCLUSION

*IF* India's ratification of the CRPD was of informed consent (and with
'sound mind' by current law!),
*if* the RPWD Bill is to comply with the CRPD,
*if* historical injustice is to be ended with an emancipatory, equalising
legislation that aggressively promotes participation of disabled citizens
in realising their potential,

and *if* public's feedback is genuinely being sought in this and other
legislative and policy matters;

it cannot be this murky token excuse of public participation.
A section of the disability sector's legal members are of the opinion that
the preponderence of changes that are required to be made to the existing
draft (refer attached annexure) would be better served by a fresh law
instead of a much patched draft.

If so to avoid the current dismal state of affairs, needless delay and
waste of public's time and money clear, fair and transparent guidelines are
a must, and since currently lacking, are the need of the hour.

The DRA seeks a cross-sectoral representation of 4 DRA member
representatives to meet with the Standing Committee to enable India with
the disability law she so desperately needs.



What I really like about this is that it says, in a much more poitically acceptble way, the exact same thing I said in a possibly much more crude and abrasive fashion in my last post. Bottom line: FLUSH THIS BILL DOWN WITH THE WASTE-MATTER AND MAKE A FRESH START TOWARDS A UNCRPD-COMPATIBLE DRAFT OF ONE.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Old wine in new bottles - or the monster rears its head again

In this past December/January, an attempt was made to pass a Bill euphemistically called `Rights of People with Disabilities Bill 2014' when it was discovered just in time by many people that this was a more a Bill of denial of such rights, and a hue and cry was made with the result that this `Bill' was sent to a Standing Committee. The primary objection to the Bill was that it kept violating the tenets of the UNCRPD that India became signatory to more than seven years ago. (As for what I mean by these violations, please see a  past post in this blog where I go berserk on this theme.) One had hoped that this Standing Committee would try to supervise the drafting of  a completely new Bill that was much more in tune with the general principles of the UNCRPD.

But now, the Parliament has issued a Press Communique dated Sept. 26th, announcing that this Standing Committee is inviting suggestions on the Bill from the public within 15 days of the announcement of the Communique. They kindly give you a link to where one may find this Bill; and what does one find there, but exactly the repugnant Bill that there was such a hullaballoo over in January/February.

Why can't the committee appoint a subcommittee of appropriately qualified and knowledgeable people to draft a new Bill which does not contravene the UNCRPD every few lines? While the latter has a completely unambiguous and humane definition of `Persons with disabilties', the RPD Bill 2014, on the other, very sagaciously identifies exactly 19 forms of disability - how 19? why 19? why this 19? - and thereby sets the cat among the pigeons pitting the several million PWD in India against one another as to who may be recognised as a PWD and hence entitled to how much of the entitlements kindly rationed out to them. And the manner of assigning percentages of posts that would be reserved for various kinds of PWD can only be understood by an Indian bureaucrat familiar with our legalese. This manner of `divide and conquer' has not been as effectively used since the days of colonisation of the `primitive' peoples by the `civilised' colonisers. 

It almost appears that what is expected is a `point-by-point' rebuttal, with numbers of relevant clauses cited, of the existing draft. As one of my friends said some eight months ago, in colourful Tamil, this Bill is `such a hopelessly torn rag full of holes, that it makes no sense trying to darn it in a few places to try and present something halfway decent'. 

This draft is, quite simply, hopelessly flawed, and one must start from scratch on a fresh sheet of paper, starting from the UNCRPD, and making India-specific amendments only where absolutely necessary.  AND this exercise of drafting must be taken from disability activists representing different kinds of disability and different parts of India (rather than the same old people in New Delhi whom our media has almost equated with the public face of PWDs in India).

Let us PLEASE take a fresh look at this vitally important matter. We have been given a second lease of life to set things in order. Let us not waste this reprieve by making a mess of it again.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Physician, heal thyself!

Haven’t you always wondered at the inordinately high level you have to climb on to before you can have an x-ray or a scan? Is there a secret golden rule followed by hospitals which demand that a patient who is aged, or who has some locomotor problems, must suffer that much more before the cause of their ailment can be assessed?
An attempt was recently made by some friends of mine, to conduct a survey of accessibility features in various hospitals, by requesting them to answer a questionnaire that had been prepared. The results were neither reassuring nor surprising:
  • 98 hospitals were approached for this purpose.
  • 64 of them agreed to answer the questionnaire, and although some responses seemed to be at some variance from what the volunteers taking the questionnaires saw, they had to take the questionnaires with the answers provided - without asking questions.
  • 34 hospitals refused to answer the questionnaire as they did not have the provisions asked about in the questionnaire. But the surveyors have no proof of this! Some of these 34 hospitals could well have some of these accessibility features.
  • Of the 64 that did respond to the questionnaire, there were three groups, each of more or less the same size, which could be described as being rather inaccessible, moderately accessible, and quite accessible.
This is just the sort of issue that Dr. Satendra Singh, another disability activist friend of mine, excels at bringing to the attention of courts or other appropriate powers that be, and forcing them to do something about it. 

How about it, Satendra?

Sunday, 14 September 2014

To tip or not to tip

This is not just a rhetorical question; it is a decision I writhe over making every time I have to use a plane. (Sorry for reverting to one of my pet topics.) You see, I use a (dry) battery operated wheelchair. But whenever I fly, I have to check in my own wheelchair, answer numerous questions regarding the possible danger to the aircraft in carrying my wheelchair, and then transfer to one of the wheelchairs used by the airline to transport people with locomotor disabilities.

The Director General of Civil Aviation had uploaded a draft Civil Aviation Requirements http://dgca.nic.in/misc/draft%20cars/D3M-M1_Draft_July2013_.pdf, according to (section 4.1.8 of) which, passengers who prefer to use their own wheelchair shall be permitted to use it provided the wheelchair conforms to identified guidelines, and the wheelchair returned to enable transfer of the passenger from the seat directly into his/her own wheelchair. That would be my idea of Nirvana - to be able to breeze through the airport independently without needing some poor guy to push me. (And, it would be much nicer to have admiring glances at my wheelchair zipping along, as against barely concealed looks of pity at my state!)

As it is, I have to check in my wheelchair at the time of checking in (after having removed the delicate joystick from it and stowed in a suitcase (deliberately chosen, only for this purpose, to be larger than would have otherwise been needed), and then transferring into one of the wheelchairs povided by the airline. And when I get to the destination, the checked-in wheelchair is brought to the conveyor belt where the bags come. After fixing some temporary dislocation the wheelchair invariably suffers while in transit, we then fix the joy-stick to the wheelchair, and get on our way.

But the point of the story is not my wheelchair, but the attendant provided by the airline to push the wheelchair provided by them. Invariably the question arises as to whether to tip the attendant, and if so, how much. On the one hand, one feels sorry for the poor chap needing to push me long distances, up and down slopes (in reverse in the latter case), ... On the other hand, it is their job, and not everybody can casually spend up to almost three hundred rupees just on tips for each flight (counting tips at both ends). My daughter says I should not tip them, as they tend to then demand such a tip, and treat passengers in a manner consistent with the tip they are likely to receive from the `fare'. I have many times, found the attendant not willing to take a tip in front of superior officers of their airline.

Of late, I have been flying the airline Indigo whenever possible, because they have ramps rather than steps so that I can be pushed all the way into the craft. The icing on the cake at my latest flight in Indigo was the response of the attendant, when offered a tip, after having taken us all the way to the pick-up point, and loaded our suitcase and my wheelchair into the van waiting for us: `No sir, this is free service from Indigo'!

It will help in the process of deciding whether or not to tip if passengers were told at check-in , that in keeping with airline policy (if that is indeed the case) , they should not tip the attendant.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Fingers Crossed

There was an event organised yesterday by the Citizen consumer and civic Action Group (CAG) of Chennai which I had received a very cordial invitation (from one of the trustees of this CAG) to attend. It was to a lecture titled `Nature Without Borders' and held at Sivagami Pethachi Hall, which is one of the few auditoria in Chennai where I attend plays, as one only has to negotiate some three shallow stairs. Initially mistaking the title for something to do with `Barrier-Free Environments', I told my hostess that I would come with my wheelchair, and she asked me to please do, promising whatever assistance I might need. I later discovered that I had been mistaken in connecting the talk to the kind of barriers I had in mind. Nevertheless, I thought it might not hurt to `make an appearance with my wheelchair', if at least to enlist some possible sympathy/help from people in influential positions. in trying to render some of these places accessible.

One of the first people I met ws a charming lady who had retired from the Madras High Court, and had been a former trustee of CAG. When a couple of guys helped carry my wheelchair in while I hobbled out of it and up the step into the auditorium, the hall was dark as the power had gone and the generator had not yet kicked in, so I sat in my wheelchair in the passage between the door and the nearest seat where this former judge was seated. It did not take much to launch into my gripes about how little it would take to organise a couple of temporary lightweight ramps which could be kept in place when needed, so one could wheel right in without anybody having to help. (See http://differentstrokes-vss.blogspot.in/2013/04/following-robert-bruce-example.html for what I mean by this!) I publicised my other pet peeve about my being unable to go the Museum Theatre, a quaint ambience to stage plays in, that is much favoured by actors - but which also has a surfeit of steps. And she said she had stopped going to the Museum Theatre, wishing to be kind to her knees which were getting no younger. Egged on by the sympathy, I said even the Music Academy, the favoured haunt for Carnatic music concerts, left a lot to be desired. Stung to the quick, she said she would use whatever clout she had there to render it fully accessible.

I also spoke to my hostess who promised to try and do something, and even suggested a few places I might want to write to, in order to increase the probability of my exercises having any effect. All in all, it had been a good end to the last working day of the week!

Monday, 4 August 2014

Smart designers could think universal

I have been managing with an ancient - unsmart - mobile phone for many years now, for two reasons: (i) the ineptness of most sixty plus people with electronic gizmos, and (ii) the conflict between needing two hands to operate a smart phone, on the one hand, and the fact that I am invariably walking with a crutch when the phone rings, on the other! As readers of this  blog might recall, I use a wheelchair when I can, but the lack of universal design in the planning of most public spaces and buildings in India force me to get off my rear and painfully and unsteadily walk with my crutch in super-slow-motion (and this keeps my physiotherapist happy, besides). Just for fun, let me give you an idea of one peculiar set of problems I have to deal with on a daily basis. Here goes: my left hand has little or no feeling, so searching for something in my pocket with the left hand is problematic; I don't know if I have picked out my pen or my phone or if indeed I have picked anything out until I see what is, or is not, in my hand. The natural solution - you would say, as if to an idiot child - is to keep things only in a pocket accessed by the right hand, but I need my right hand for my crutch when I have to walk. And by what's his name's principle, the phone will invariably ring only when I am walking!

And I do need my phone for reasons unfamiliar to most people. I usually get dropped  as close as is possible to wherever I have to get out of the car and walk to wherever I have to go, and when I return to the `pick-up point', I have to call my driver to ask him to come and get me; and this happens three or four times a day. And it is not as if I wouldn't like to have the internet available at my fingertips. But as I said earlier, these `smart'  phones, which everybody tells me I should get, come with two inconvenient features for me: (i) you need two hands to operate them, and (ii) the icons are so small - in order to show the huge number of `smart' options that are available to the user - that something like every fourth key/icon that my nimble fingers hit is a wrong one. (This, by the way, is one reason that even when I use the larger keyboard of a laptop, my efforts are riddled with typos - z's and r's appear where they have no business to!)

This post is an open letter to computer geeks to address my two problems above by coming up with a smart phone which (i) can be operated easily with one hand, and (ii) incorporate a mechanism whereby an icon blows up in size when one's finger is above it (Macs have this facility when the cursor goes over icons in the `dock';) and thereby permit me to sample the `smart' aids that are available to most people other than me. I am sure (ii) above would also help people with low vision. Some universal design please!