By Ms. Sminu Jindal
29th May 2019 | New Delhi
(This article appeared in Hindustan Times, Delhi Edition on 29th May 2019)
Accessibility means uninterrupted mobility for all of us to reach our fullest potential. People with reduced mobility, permanent or temporary disabilities, like pregnant women, senior citizens and children have the right to inclusive and accessible environments in all aspects of life. Accessibility facilitates empowerment of the people; this is done through holistic, inclusive and accessible education for all. However, this has yet to be a reality. People with reduced mobility still have to choose between their right to education and their need for an accessible environment.
There are many stories that incite the need for action like Sonia Tripathi’s story, a tale of a father’s devotion to his daughter to support her throughout her education, even by carrying her up to the third floor of her college building so that she can give her BA exams. It is one of the millions of untold stories of people with reduced mobility that illustrate the need for a barely existing inclusivity and accessibility in our education system.
Of the 150 higher educational institutes existing in India, students with disabilities constitute a mere 0.56% of them. Dropout rates are higher for students with reduced mobility than the rates for their admission. It is natural to ask the question: why individuals with reduced mobility do not attend colleges or pursue higher education at all? Why, despite the existence of so many unoccupied seats, students with reduced mobility do not get the opportunity to a college education? There is no single reason why people with various challenges do not have a ‘go-getter’ attitude when it comes to college education. Everyone is not able to connect with the emotional turmoil experienced by a person with reduced mobility. Thus, this problem has emerged and gained prominence.
In the capital region of the country Delhi University has about 50-55K seats in Undergraduate courses. The reserved seats earlier were around 1500 and disabled admission seekers range from 700 to 1000 only. With the new Act the reservation has gone up from 3% to 5% hence the seats reserved are about 2500 now for DU U/G course. Other than this IP University, Ambedkar University, Delhi Technological University (DTU), National Law University, Medical colleges, Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), and many other professional institutions have a large intake of students. Currently the disability quota is 5%, as mandated by the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPwD) Act, 2016.
As per reports, thirty-two of India’s top universities and institutions of higher learning, including IITs, IIMs, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Delhi University, together fill up barely 16% of the minimum quota for people with disabilities. 84% seats under disability quota remain unfilled in the top universities.
At present, most colleges in India get infrastructural audits done, but completely accessible college campuses remain a challenge. While they recognize and incorporate provisions for people with reduced mobility, the extent is usually narrowed down to certain forms of physical challenges among some individuals. Basic facilities like accessible transportation to and from college, in-campus accommodations and an accessible infrastructure, with wide doors, elevators, ramps, and properly equipped toilets to enable uninterrupted mobility and educational pursuit need to more extensively built.
Yet, accessibility goes beyond the transportation and infrastructural provisions; the role played by limiting beliefs around reduced mobility is a major aspect that needs to be looked at. Reduced mobility is perceived to disempower and dampen the potential of an individual. For them to have ‘equal opportunity’ and ‘the right to inclusive and accessible education,’ they must put in extra efforts, make sacrifices and prove their resilience. The onus of overcoming the hurdles to achieve equal opportunities should never be on the person with reduced mobility, it is a community-wide problem. Reduced mobility is indefinitely a challenge; yet, who does not face obstacles in their lives? Inclusive provisions and beliefs in a diverse society like ours means ensuring we all have the tools to overcome our own unique battles in our journeys.
Such conversations shed light on forgotten challenges that parts of our society have, are and will continue to face until steps are taken to properly address this debilitating issue our society and economy faces, as able and willing talent is lost every time a child drops out of school. Accessible and inclusive education for all is what we all deserve, irrespective of our mobility status. These large-scale, trans-media conversations break myths on reduced mobility to establish clearly the needs of accessible transportation and infrastructure for equal and inclusive opportunities that will lead to a better tomorrow.
Making educational institutes an inclusive and barrier-free learning space is quintessential for accessibility, which is what Svayam is working on since 2000. By spreading awareness, especially among the youth, through its digital media campaign #YahanSeWahanTak, it facilitates conversations on challenges like #GharSeCollegeTak, personal narratives of youth on the lack of accessible infrastructure and limiting beliefs they faced in higher education.