For PwDs to be active members of the society and lead a fulfilling life, understanding how they function and participate in the society and integrating them is important. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states that people with disabilities have a right to fully participate in society, however, it is ultimately the way devices, services and built environments are structured which determine the extent to which PwDs can participate and engage effectively in their surroundings.
Usually understood as the ‘ability to access’, accessibility requires the implementation of minimum standards and guidelines so that PwDs can access, physical environment and information on an equal basis with others. This is required for inclusion and realization of the rights of PwDs. It is also closely related to Universal Design which emphasizes on creating products, services and built environment which can be conveniently used by everybody, irrespective of whether they are disabled or not.
Accessibility has multiple dimensions, inclusive of but not limited to – built environment, transportation and information and communication technology.
- Accessible physical environment benefits not just PwDs but rather everybody ranging from children to elderly and this makes it imperative to overcome barriers in all common facilities like steps, elevator, parking, emergency exit, toilet etc. of the built environment.
- Accessible transportation determines the extent to which PwDs are able to move around independently and also play a vital role in widening / limiting the range of opportunities that a person experiences in all aspects of his life.
- Digital accessibility focuses on making digital products like websites, mobile applications, tools etc. accessible for everyone and aims to provide all the users access to the same information despite the disabilities that they may have.
Efforts are being made to create accessible environments for PwDs. During the accessibility audits of public buildings in Delhi-NCR, most corporate buildings of DLF in Cyber Hub, Gurgaon, were found to have elevators that were touch-screen operable. This has definitely made the buildings stand out in terms of technological advancements and aesthetics, however, in doing so, the buildings have been rendered inaccessible to the visually impaired individuals who rely on braille for operating elevators. Furthermore, most buildings either did not have designated refuge areas and emergency exits for PwDs or in cases where it was present, the way was either through steps or through incorrectly built ramps. Most buildings also lacked facilities as basic as accessible washrooms and in cases where they were present, they were either locked up as a store room or converted into a pantry.
Working as an Access Auditor has allowed me to closely experience how the built environment is structured and has helped me to reflect on how disability is a socially constructed idea which is more about the mindset than the body and it is essentially the disabling world that we exist in which aggravates a person’s disability.