Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2016 - Interview with Jay Kumar

On Global Accessibility Awareness Day which falls this year on 19 May, we speak with Jay Kumar, a programme officer and a member of advocacy team in CBM South Asian Regional Office.

My name is Jay Kumar. I am working as a programme officer and a member of advocacy team in CBM South Asian Regional Office since June 2015. I work towards promoting equal rights and opportunities for persons with disabilities through partner organizations and advocacy. Having a personal experience of disability, I faced lot of barriers which restricted my participation and exercising my rights starting from home. This triggered me to focus on promoting accessibility within the house and outside environment, so persons with disabilities to have equal participation and lead independent lives.


In your work in the field of accessibility in India, what are your main responsibilities?

Being part of the advocacy committee, my main responsibilities include the provision of trainings on accessibility as well as the realisation of accessibility audits and technical support delivery upon requests.

Capacity building: I provide trainings to members of Disabled People Organizations and partner staffs on universal design, accessibility and accessibility audits. If required, I also visit the field, give advice and inputs in designing the structure according to the need of individual.

Accessibility Audits: Based on requests, CBM and its partners conduct access audits for the public buildings and recommendations are provided to help with accessibility adjustments. Recently, I led a team to conduct access audit of three Central Public Works Departments. Audit tools are a good way to raise awareness about accessibility and sensitize building owners and their staff about the benefits of universal design for the whole population. 

Addition to this, I took the lead in getting CBM empanelled as access auditor under the Accessibility India Campaign, Government of India and also supported two CBM partners to get empanelled.

Technical support: I am providing technical support for State Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT) for their pilot project on accessible pavement. This is a great opportunity to improve mobility of pedestrians and ensure our sidewalk and public spaces are design with accessibility and universal design in mind. One example of accessible feature is the tactile walking surface indicators which are designed to guide blind people and people with low vision safely around the city. 


What have your challenges faced in terms of accessibility?

In India, a major step has been the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 under sections 44, 45 and 46 which categorically specifies the role of the State in creating access. United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), to which India is a signatory, under Article 9 casts obligations on the Governments for ensuring to PWDs accessibility to (a) Information, (b) Transportation, (c) Physical Environment, (d) Communication Technology and (e) Accessibility to Services as well as emergency services. Over and above, the National Building Code, Central Public Works Department guidelines as well as bylaws of various urban development bodies have shown the direction towards building a barrier free environment.

However, despite the number of acts, policies and guidelines, most public spaces and public buildings such as schools/ colleges, Govt. offices, private employers, businesses establishments, places of historical interests have made little or no provisions for creating a barrier-free environment. There are many factors for explaining this including:

  • Poor implementation plan and monitoring system
  • Lack of technical experts in the field of accessibility
  • Poor participation of persons with disabilities in planning and designing
  • Lack of awareness among the persons with disabilities and their families on importance of barrier free environments
  • Religious and cultural practices
  • Financial constraints (more expensive to retrofit or upgrade to an accessible building later on)
  • Lack of demonstration models based on the geographic and lifestyle
  • Lack of access auditors

How do you manage to respond to these challenges?

We are making some efforts to overcome these challenges. We are particularly working towards:

  • Creating the awareness among persons with disabilities, families and the public on universal design and accessibility.
  • Participating in various government forums and advocating to take accessibility into account.
  • Training members of Disabled People Organizations and partner staff to develop pool of access auditors at grassroots level.
  • Working with universities to include a paper on accessibility 
  • Networking with government and other agencies, using CBM Accessibility manual to share examples of accessibility guidelines.
  • Conducting sensitization and training for civil engineers and other stakeholders

Can you explain accessible India campaign? How did things get started?

For Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) universal accessibility is critical for enabling them to gain access for equal opportunity, live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life in an inclusive society.
The Department hosted the Second Session of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) Working Group on Asian and Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities during 2-3 March, 2015 at New Delhi in association with the UNESCAP Secretariat. This Working Group has been constituted by UNESCAP Secretariat to monitor implementation of the Incheon Strategy “Make the Right Real” for Persons with Disabilities. Goal No. ‘3’ of Incheon Strategy concerns “Enhance access to the physical environment, public transportation, knowledge, information and communication”.

In an ambitious move that aims to enable persons with disabilities to gain universal access, equal opportunity for development, independent living and participation in all aspects of life in an inclusive society, Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD) within the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has formulated the Accessible India Campaign (Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan) as a nation-wide campaign for achieving universal accessibility for PWDs. The campaign was launched on 3rd December 2015, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.


What are the main components of the Accessible India Campaign?

The campaign targets three separate verticals for achieving universal accessibility namely the built up environment, transportation eco-system and information & communication eco-system.  The campaign has ambitious targets with defined timelines and will use Information Technology and social media for spreading awareness about the campaign and seeking commitment / engagement of various stakeholders.

The Department has asked various State Govts. to identify about 50 to 100 public buildings in big cities and also identify citizen centric  public websites, which if made fully accessible would have the highest impact on the lives of Persons with Disabilities.  Once identified, “Access Audit” of these buildings and websites will be conducted by professional agencies.  Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities is collaborating with Ministry of Home, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Ministry of Tourism for creating ‘accessible police stations’, ‘accessible hospitals’ and ‘accessible tourism’ respectively across the country.  The Department is also coordinating with the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting for enhancing accessibility of television programmes by incorporating features like captioning, text to speech and audio description.


How will the information collected be useful for the general population?

Actually, DEPwD is in the process of creating a mobile app, along with a web portal for crowd sourcing the requests regarding inaccessible places. With the app, downloaded on his/her mobile phone, any person would be able to click a photograph or video of an inaccessible public place (like a school, hospital, government office etc.) and upload the same to the Accessible India portal. The portal will process the request for access audit, financial sanction and final retrofitting of the building to make it completely accessible. The mobile app and portal will also seek engagement of big corporates and PSUs to partner in the campaign by offering their help to conduct access audit and for accessibility- conversion of the buildings/transport and websites.

As an offshoot to the campaign, Department has also sought Expression of Interest from IT firms to prepare a mobile app in all Indian languages to locate nearest accessible places. With this mobile app, any disabled person would be able to locate an accessible bank counter, restaurant, ATM or theatre (and similar facilities) nearby.  The mobile app will also have provision of evaluating / rating the accessible place by the users.


Can you tell us more about the scope and the targets of this campaign?

Under the ‘Accessible India’ campaign the government is targeting fifty-to-hundred government buildings in each state to make them accessible in the next one year with more to follow in the coming years. They also have ambitions towards making Airports and Railway stations accessible, and in fact, make 25 percent of government-owned public transport carriers in the country become fully accessible carriers by mid-2017. For this, the department had already empanelled 18 access audit experts (includes, institutions and NGOs) and the work order for completing the access audit of 50 cities had been given for shortlisted access auditors. As per, the audit findings, retrofitting and conversion of buildings, transport and websites would be undertaken by various government departments. This will be supported by the Scheme of Implementation of Persons with Disabilities Act (SIPDA), an umbrella scheme run by the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD), for implementing various initiatives for social and economic empowerment of PWDs.

‘Accessible India’ is a great start, indicating intent to do great things for the disabled community and kudos to the government for that! However, its eventual success will depend on the level of engagement of all stakeholders in moving this campaign forward. I do feel that it is critical to engage the private sector very pro-actively.

More reading

On 19 May 2016, we celebrate the fifth Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD)

Global Awareness Accessibility Day 2016