Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities in India

> Posted by Shubha Kastiya, Fund Accountant in Prime Fund Services, Credit Suisse
This post is the second of a three-part series from Credit Suisse Virtual Volunteers, sharing reflections and insights from their investigations into the state of financial inclusion for persons with disabilities (PWDs) across several country contexts. The three posts will examine past efforts and offer potential solutions for creating more inclusive societies in Ecuador, India, and the Philippines. The post begins:
In my Virtual Volunteer assignment, I wanted to get a solid understanding of the factors and issues affecting persons with disabilities (PWDs) and what is being done to remedy them.
One such issue is accessibility, which means that disabled persons can approach, enter, pass to and from, and make use of a built environment without undue difficulties or outside assistance. Accessibility and associated technology for PWDs are quite advanced in India. There are numerous organizations working exclusively on making society more accessible, and I was surprised to find that they have been fairly successful in implementing their strategies. Although this is not the case for all MFIs and socially-driven organizations in India. I want to introduce you to six impressive initiatives that have made great strides in making accessibility a reality.
Access audits, in particular, have proven to be a powerful tool for improving accessibility for PWDs. These audits evaluate existing infrastructure and services in terms of accessibility and generate corresponding recommendations. Samarthyam, a national information, technical assistance and research organization in India, has conducted access audits in over 2,000 locations throughout India and has trained professionals in implementing accessible design. Samarthyam’s work is housed primarily under the “National Centre for Accessible Environments” project, through which it evaluates, develops, and promotes accessible design across many environments, including transportation systems and consumer products. In 2005, Samarthyam conducted a study on the accessibility of Low Floor Buses (LFB), bus shelters, and the new Bus Rapid Transit System. It provided corresponding design solutions and has been monitoring their implementation. In a similar study of the Indian Railway system, Samarthyam looked at the accessibility of stations, reservation centers and passenger compartments for PWDs. The organization has also designed Braille registration plates and audio meters for auto rickshaws.
The Swayam initiative looks to raise public awareness of and support for widespread accessibility. It does so while working closely with government agencies and corporations. For example, it works with the Ministry of Tourism in promoting inclusive tourism. Swayam is also the accessibility consultant for the Archeological Survey of India (ASI), ensuring that historical sites, monuments, and properties protected under ASI are accessible to PWDs. It has conducted accessibility audits of notable sites that include Humayon’s Tomb, Lal Quila, the Red Fort, Kashmir Gate, and Jallian Walla Bagh. Swayam also works alongside with Delhi University raising awareness amongst students, faculty, and staff on disability equality.
Considered a pioneer in India’s drive towards accessibility, AccessAbility is an Indian design consultancy firm that offers PWD-friendly design solutions. AccessAbility is credited with introducing access consulting as a beneficial service. The firm begins prospective-construction projects by reviewing architectural layouts and plans in the blueprint stage, and suggesting potential access features through access appraisals. These appraisals allow the access consultant to do detailed evaluations and create technical reports with recommendations for external, structural, built, and signage environments. The consultant will then be available to provide support for the recommendations. The firm also conducts accessibility audits of already-constructed environments and services. To support public awareness, AccessAbility provides sensitization trainings spanning topics including escorting people with disabilities, using non-offensive terminology, and general education. AccessAbility’s clients are wide-ranging, encompassing hospitality, healthcare, retail, educational institutes, and research.
The National Institute of Speech and Hearing in Kerala serves a variety of purposes for the rehabilitation of speech and hearing impaired persons. It provides professional services and technology, and promotes awareness and accessibility through research. In an overlapping realm, Kerala’s Center for Disability Studies  focuses on the development of new educational technologies and programs for the visually impaired, physically disabled, and hearing impaired. The Center is looking to begin offering academic instruction in disability studies at both the masters and doctoral levels, and also to develop educational materials for PWDs, working professionals, activists, and others. The Center also plans to conduct research on the promotion of inclusive educational practices at school and collegiate levels for students with disabilities.
In addition to accessibility, India has been quite progressive in several other areas with regards to PWDs. One of the most important pieces of legislation for PWDs, the Persons with Disabilities Act, is intended to improve inclusion in education, employment, transportation, and other various services. Regarding financial services and products, there are options available to PWDs, but many cite high barriers for access, such as unfamiliarity with banking systems and the inability to provide adequate documentation. Kudumbashree, a community action organization in Kerala working to eradicate poverty, has achieved success in marketing products and services made by PWD entrepreneurs. Other institutions in India support the integration of PWDs into the mainstream workforce by offering financial education and training to prospective PWD-employees, and assisting employers in creating inclusive workplaces.
Shubha Kastiya is a Fund Accountant in Prime Fund Services at Credit Suisse.
Image Credit: Samarthyam
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