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City buildings lack barrier-free environment


GUWAHATI, June 30 - Even after two decades of inception of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act 1995, that clearly mandates non-discrimination in the built environment, almost all buildings barring one or two in the capital city lack barrier-free environment for persons with disabilities.

Though the Act has laid down the parameters for ensuring accessibility to persons with disabilities in the way of ramps in public buildings, adaptation of toilets for wheelchair users, Braille symbols and auditory signals in elevators, ramps in hospitals, primary health centres and other medical care and rehabilitation institutions, etc., none of these has been implemented in most of the government buildings that were surveyed by Shishu Sarothi under the Accessible India Campaign.

Accessible India Campaign (Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan), the Prime Minister�s national flagship programme is presently under way in many cities, where access audits of identified government buildings are being done to make them barrier-free for persons with disabilities.

Shishu Sarothi, which is an empanelled access auditor with the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, has completed access audits of 25 government buildings in Guwahati. According to Arman Ali, executive director of Shishu Sarothi, except a few buildings, the other buildings have no barrier-free ambience for persons with disabilities. �We had adopted a three-pronged approach while conducting our audit, focusing on accessibility for the locomotor disabled, visually impaired and hearing impaired. Unfortunately, despite the Act clearly pointing out to provide barrier environment in the government buildings there is no such provision,� said Ali.

The buildings that were audited include the GMCH, Gauhati University, DC Office, DGP Office, Aayakar Bhawan, the Secretariat, High Court (old building), Directorate of Social Welfare, State Home for Women, Jalukbari, Directorate of Fisheries etc.

It needs to be mentioned that Accessible India Campaign under the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD), Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, aims at achieving universal accessibility for persons with disabilities and to create an enabling and barrier-free environment, with a focus on three verticals: Built Environment, Public Transportation and Information and Communication Technologies. Amongst the 48 selected cities, Guwahati and the capital cities of the north-eastern region have also been selected.

�We feel the private constructions like malls, movie halls etc., that have multiplied in the city should also respect the Act and create barrier-free ambience for persons with disabilities,� said Ali, emphasising that the rights of persons with disabilities should be ensured.

Ali further said that most officials had no knowledge about the Act and called for sensitisation and dissemination about the Act.

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