‘Free Will, Free Wheels’

“Fate made it impossible for him to run and play, park entrances make it impossible for him to even enter,” said the father of a 14-year old wheel chair user who gathered with over a dozen wheelchair users under the aegis of ‘Free Will, Free Wheels’. Demanding their right, to equal access of city open spaces, wheel chair users and their families gathered outside the Leisure valley entrance, “All parks greet us with a board saying no entry for cycles, dogs, cattle etc but all of them pass through the entrances, only the wheelchair users are kept at par,” said Gurbir Singh Kochchar. 

“It takes two assistants to carry a person on wheelchair, even then so many of us have managed it to the entrance, now I ask the administration to take me further. How are we to climb stairs, hop rods, go through revolving gates?” asked Harman Sidhu, Founder Arrive Safe.  “ Sadly, the entrance converts the leisurely open space into fortresses which aim to keep vehicles, animals and wheelchairs out,” he added.

“When the administration can spare funds for entertainment and leisure, why does it neglect the people with special needs? Its either lack of empathy or intelligence because in a city like Chandigarh, that grew from a plan instead of a generic areas, it is very easy to make it wheelchair friendly, ”asserted Dr Gaurav Chhabra, founder of Hum Log.

It is mandatory for all private owned spaces like malls and theatres to be handicapped friendly but the administration has exempted itself from this rule. “So a handicapped person can go watch a movie but if he has to go for a government work or education he will be reminded of his handicap and humiliating eyes seems to ask why did he even bother to step out of his house?” said a wheelchair user.

City based advocate, Harish Mehla said, “UN declaration of human rights embarks responsibility upon each state to provide its citizens, right to life with dignity and constitution of India enshrines all necessary provisions to realize this vision. Despite that basic lack of innovation and empathy reminds the people on wheelchair of their handicap each time they choose to step out of their homes.”

Making buildings safer and easy to navigate might be difficult as it will need plans, design, construction and money but open spaces become unfriendly and inaccessible after beautification or landscaping. “The absolute oblivion of the administration leads them to believe that there are very few people that need ramps and not steps. We are told there
is a very small percentage of people with disabilities that use an area or facility, they don’t realise that the percentage is small because there are no facilities. When I know I can not reach there without he help of at least four people, why will I go at all?” asserted resident of a city Disability Home.

THE PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES (Equal Opportunities, protection Of Rights And Full Participation) ACT, 1995 clearly states that , “The appropriate Governments and the local authorities shall, within the limits of their economic capacity and development, provide for … adapt rail compartments, buses, vessels and aircrafts in such a way as to permit easy access to such persons… causing curb cuts and slopes to be made in pavements for the easy access of wheel chair users… the removal of architectural barriers from schools, colleges or other institutions imparting vocational and professional training…ensure that every child with a disability has access to free education in an appropriate environment till she/he attains the age of eighteen years.”



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