“Whenever an event happens in Delhi, any able bodied person would first check if the tickets are available and if he or she can buy them. For me, it is a double step. I first need to check which hall it is in and then enquire whether the hall is accessible. Once I know that the hall is accessible then I need to go to step two which is buy the tickets and go for the event.”
Being a startup working around spaces, inclusiveness, pleasures and sexuality, Hidden Pockets made a conscious effort at making this World Disability Day about sharing pleasure pockets for the disabled, places that they can actually access considering that these options are usually limited and few. How about a look at access from the eyes of a person with disability? We spoke to Nipun Malhotra, CEO of Nipman Foundation about people with disability and access and the work his organisation does around making spaces accessible.
In December 2015, the government of India launched the Accessibility India Campaign in an attempt to make government buildings accessible to people with disability. This campaign aims to make at least 50% of the government buildings in the national capital and all states capitals, accessible to people with disability by July 2018.
Demonetisation and access
I think the problem is much bigger than demonetization. I’m 29 years old and I have never really used an ATM. I always sign a cheque and give it to my attendant to have the cash withdrawn. That said, I’ve been hearing two kinds of feedback about demonetization, one that says that banks have released a circular about a separate queue for senior citizens and the disabled, mostly in Delhi. The other one is negative.
Going beyond demonetization, what is required is an institutional change and financial access to people with disability. For the visually challenged, most of the banks’ website are not accessible. So they cannot even do electronic transactions. With respect to mobility challenges, most of the banks have not been accessible. So with or without demonetization, that has been a long-term struggle.
People with disability as complete individuals
While there are NGOs in the country that focus on auditing public spaces to provide access to people with disability, to Nipun Malhotra, says it is about looking at people with disability as complete individuals and going beyond educational institutions and hospitals.
I have realised that for people with disability in India, schools and hospitals are two spaces that people focus on. Even in schools and hospitals, the figures are quite disappointing. There is need for change in attitude in India towards people with disability. People with disability should be looked at as complete individuals and not just as people with physiological needs. Disabled people should also be out in the open celebrating.
Nipun Malhotra commutes on a wheelchair due to arthrogryposis, a rare congenital disorder leading to a lack of muscles in arms and legs that he was born with. Nipman Foundation works as accessibility partner for events and festivals auditing temporary structures to provide access to the disabled. Apart from the Serendipity Arts Festival (Goa) scheduled to happen in December 2016, Jaipur Literary Festival and NH7 Weekender are some of the festivals and events that the organisation has partnered with so far.
With over a decade of experience in auditing public spaces including Delhi Metro, Delhi Parliament, the Delhi High Court, Delhi Heart, Priyanka Malhotra, a disability rights activist and an accessibility auditor, started the Nipman Foundation in 2012. The organisation works on different spheres of providing access to the disabled, be it to wheelchairs, livelihood, health and other services. Now the organisation also focuses on events and temporary structures.
A few accessible events and festivals in India
It depends on what the festival really wants. One of the ideas that we came up for the NH7 Weekender was having raised platforms for people with disability who are in a sitting position. These events usually have people standing and that obstructs the view of the people sitting. Raised platforms will make the visibility of the stage at eye level. It would be easier for them to look at things. That is just one example,
Apart from raised platforms, the organisation also looked at access to disabled friendly toilets, training and sensitisation of staff at the music festival. According to Malhotra, being an accessible, Jaipur Literary Festival only required support with ramps for the stage and wheelchairs for any elderly or disabled persons attending the event. Nipman Foundation had a stall offering wheelchairs and volunteers who can help, making the festival accessible to people with disability.
With the Serendipity Arts Festival being in its first edition, Nipman Foundation sees the potential to make the festival completely accessible to people with disability. Apart from the venue accessible and providing accessible transportation for people with disability, the festival has a long term vision of making the content accessible, adds Malhotra who classifies access as physical, attitudinal and access to content.
Public spaces in New Delhi
Speaking about his home city of Delhi, Malhotra adds that India Habitat Centre, India International Centre and five star hotels are accessible (wheel chair friendly). What about other public spaces?
Whenever an event happens in Delhi, any able bodied person would first if the tickets are available and if he or she can buy them. For me, it is a double step. I first need to check which hall it is in and then enquire whether the hall is accessible. Once I know that the hall is accessible then I need to go to step two which is buy the tickets and go for the event. I live in Gurgaon. There is a theatre right next to my house. But the theatre is not accessible at all.
Other accessible movie theatres in New Delhi
Spice Cinema in Noida was completely accessible. There is a PVR in Saket that is very accessible. Then there is a theatre in Select city or DLF Mall one of the two, that is quite accessible. Then there is a Three Seasons Lajput Nagar that is very accessible. There are these four or five theatres that are quite accessible. Other than that the situation is quite bad.
Being an avid movie watcher used to watching at least a movie every week, Malhotra notes that Spice Cinemas in Noida to be completely accessible. It appears that the builders of the mall were open to inputs about making the mall accessible.
I actually approached the builders of the mall and sent them a polite mail with a couple of recommendations and also met one of the managers with my mother. They were receptive to us. They took our feedback and ensured that it was accessible.
Approach to making spaces accessible?
The way to go about things is instead of retrofitting things and making them accessible, it would help if the government comes up with a policy that mandates a NOC for accessibility for commercial buildings over a particular size, just like a emergency fire exit etc. Unless that certificate is given, the completion certificate should not be given.
Supreme Court’s mandate on national anthem in theatres
I’m going to stay silent on whether the national anthem should be played. Not because I don’t have an opinion, but because as a wheelchair user, my challenge is much more complicated, writes Malhotra talking about the recent Supreme Court mandate on playing the national anthem in cinema halls.
The Supreme Court order states, “All the cinema halls in India shall play the National Anthem before the feature film starts and all present in the hall are obliged to stand up to show respect to the National Anthem.” The order does not exempt the disabled. There is no mention of the disabled.
Editor’s note: While pleasure pockets for people with disability may seem like a concept that can only be afforded by the privileged class, the idea is to look at people with disability as complete beings with pleasures and desires and not just beings with physical requirements. That attitudinal shift will happen only by having conversations around making all public spaces, (government buildings, malls, parks, super markets, hospitals, banks, schools, colleges, roads, pavements) basically any structure inclusive with access to all. While the government and other bodies (hopefully) work towards making spaces more accessible and (hopefully) passing the Disability Bill 2014, let’s have more conversations around making all spaces inclusive!