Irony died a slow death when Nipun Malhotra, a disability rights activist, struggled to reach the stage for the lack of proper provision at a venue where he was to deliver a speech on accessibility in public transports for disabled persons.
On May 24, the last day of the ‘5th Smart Cities India 2019 Expo’, Malhotra was called as a speaker. However, the managers of the event made no arrangements for the wheelchair-bound Malhotra. A disappointed and slightly amused Malhotra then took to social media to speak about the incident.
Ironic…No ramp at a smart city panel. I was invited to speak on accessibility but it was a struggle to get on to the stage pic.twitter.com/3kJyhYizBB
— Nipun Malhotra (@nipunmalhotra) May 24, 2019
“Both Amused And Sad”
Malhotra was born with a locomotor disability called ‘arthrogryposis’ which leaves a person completely wheelchair bound. He has been a well-known advocate of disability rights and making public spaces more accessible.
In absence of proper arrangements, Malhotra along with his wheelchair had to be lifted up four steps to the podium.
The event was organised by The Exhibitions India Group (EIG) – and co-organisers India Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO). EIG is a private enterprise that acts as “an interface between businesses, government, academia, society, media, etc,” as per the official website of the annual Smart City Expo. ITPO is the trade promotion agency of the Ministry of Commerce & Industry, Government of India.
Speaking to The Logical Indian Malhotra said, “They (management) did not even give a proper excuse. Their apology also seemed to be half-hearted. However, when my tweet received a lot of traction, the management called and expressed their regret.”
He further added, “It is not just the problem of attitude, it also brings forth the lack of sensitization among the public in general. I believe that in architecture schools and in engineering colleges, making infrastructure disabled-friendly must be taught as part of the course.”
Malhotra said that while the government’s Accessible India Campaign has improved the situation, but added that it has just touched the tip of the iceberg. “We need to bring by-laws in this regard,” he says.
Malhotra is the founder of Nipman Foundation. In February, he moved Delhi High Court seeking a stop on Delhi government’s decision to acquire about 2000 buses, deemed disabled-unfriendly. As a result, in March, the Delhi cabinet approved a plan for fitting hydraulic lifts in 1000 CNG buses to make them more accessible.
Accessibility In India
As per the 2011 Census, there are 2.68 crore disabled persons in India, this forms 2.21% of the total population. Unavailability of accessible infrastructure often renders a large population of disabled persons completely dependent on their family.
The Accessible India Campaign or Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan was launched in 2015 by the government of India. This campaign was launched with the aim to focus on developing ‘accessible physical environment, transportation system and Information & communication ecosystem’.
While there has been some improvement in making public infrastructure disabled-friendly, there is still a long way to go. As Malhotra puts it, “We are all temporarily-bodied persons. A disabled person, if provided with apt infrastructure can function as well as anybody else.”