Svayam partners with Election Commission of India (ECI) for Accessible & Inclusive Elections

New Delhi | 04 July 2018

To ensure accessible and inclusive elections, the Election Commission of India has for the first time engaged with the civil society seeking their expertise, assistance and recommendations while taking several other concrete steps to make the dream of inclusive election a reality. Towards this endeavour, the ECI partnered with country’s top civil society organizations (CSOs) including Svayam. An active role was played by Ms. Smitha Sadasivan, Consultant, ECI in this endeavour.

Photo Caption: Chief Election Commissioner Shri OP Rawat, (fifth from left) in the presence of Election Commissioners Shri Sunil Arora (fourth from left) and Shri Ashok Lavasa. (fourth from right) at the National Consultation on Accessible Elections

Photo Caption: Chief Election Commissioner Shri OP Rawat, (fifth from left) in the presence of Election Commissioners Shri Sunil Arora (fourth from left) and Shri Ashok Lavasa. (fourth from right) at the National Consultation on Accessible Elections

Post its deliberation with the CSOs, the ECI decided to hold a two-day “National Consultation on Accessible Elections” on 3-4 July 2018 at the Nirvachan Sadan, Ashoka Road, New Delhi. The event was inaugurated by Chief Election Commissioner Shri OP Rawat, in the presence of Election Commissioners Shri Sunil Arora and Shri Ashok Lavasa. During the inaugural session, a dedicated portal for the ECI’s ‘Systematic Voters Education and Electoral Participation’ (SVEEP) initiative was also launched.

In the consultation, Mr. Subhash Chandra Vashishth, Director, Svayam, presented the recommendations on behalf of Svayam towards making elections more accessible and inclusive.

Consultation Reader:

Front page of the Consultation Reader published by the Election Commission of India

Consultation Reader published by ECI

A conference reader was published by the Election Commission of India which contained the major recommendations made by partner VSOs. Click here for a copy of the Conference Reader.

A brief profile of Svayam and its recommendation appear from page __ to ___ in the consultation reader.

Proceedings : In the two day deliberations the CEOs of different states, stakeholders from all over India and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) sat together and mulled over the challenges faced by people with reduced mobility and those with disabilities in independently using their right to franchise and discussed effective strategies to remove the barriers in a time bound manner.

The venue of the Consultation had a small exhibition showing the ECI’s work in promoting inclusion, a Model Accessible Polling Booth. The venue was designed as accessible with a ramp leading to the stage and provisions of good signage and simultaneous signage language interpretation of the event.

The Election Commission of India developed a Strategic Framework on Accessible Elections which was formally released by the Chief Election Commissioner during the closing session of the event.

The event was a part of the ECI’s larger mission to ‘leave no voter behind,’ with a special focus on ‘Persons with Disabilities’ (PwD). The theme of the event was ‘Inclusion of PwD’s’. It has been given a special focus in the ECI’s Strategic Plan 2016-2025. Also, “Accessible Elections” has been adopted as ECI’s central theme for this year’s National Voters’ Day celebrations.

The event aimed to identify the barriers or gaps in the inclusion of PwD’s in the electoral process, in order to assess the existing accessibility initiatives and find solutions for the challenges being faced by them.  The main objective was to enhance the participation of the Persons with Disabilities in the upcoming state and Lok Sabha elections.

Participants: The participants at the event included the Chief Electoral Officers of all states, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) working in the area of empowerment of the differently-abled and senior officials of the Union Ministries of Social Justice & Empowerment, Information & Broadcasting, Electronics and Information Technology, Youth Affairs and Sports, Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), Central Public Works Department and the National Literacy Mission Authority.

The Election Commission handed over the first “braille enabled voter identity card” to a voter with blindness and shared that it will soon issue braille voter identity cards to all visually-challenged electors across the country who opt for it. Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat said the commission has decided to establish auxiliary polling stations during elections for the people with disabilities.

Mobile app launch: The Chief Election Commissioner Shri. O. P. Rawat, along with the Election Commissioners Shri Sunil Arora and Shri Ashok Lavasa also launched a mobile app, called ‘cVIGIL’ for citizens to report any violation of the model code of conduct during elections through which videos and photos of any poll code violations could be reports to ECI in real times including lack of accessibility or any other barrier faced by voters with disabilities.

Disability Coordinators: Mr. Rawat said “disability coordinators” will be appointed at the assembly constituency, district and state levels. The CEC said the commission will also make available all election-related awareness material in accessible formats for such voters. Rawat said photo voter slips will also be made in accessible formats for them.

Sign language windows: For the use of the hearing-impaired voters, sign language windows will be provided in all audio-visual training and awareness content of the commission, he said. In his address, Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said, “We should go far beyond the bureaucratic measures to overcome the barriers. Technology has the capability to fill the gaps and it shall be explored to its fullest potential.”

Voting from Home: The Election Commission is also thinking about various new- age methods to make elections more accessible; this includes advance voting or early voting, voting from home, postal vote, transport assistance or mobile polling station concept, provided these do not compromise the sanctity and secrecy of vote.

As per the strategic framework finalised at the national consultation on accessible elections, the commission also agreed to examine the scope and need for legislative measures to enhance electoral participation of physically-challenged people.

The framework — based on the premise of ‘no voter to be left behind’ — was drawn up in consultation with representative of national parties, government ministries/ departments, disability experts and civil society organisations. The ECI will examine the feasibility of allowing persons with disabilities to vote before general voting hours so as to save them the trouble of having to queue up. The possibility of extending the postal ballot facility to differently-abled people will also be weighed. Also, persons with disabilities, who will be mapped by the EC constituency and polling station-wise, may be facilitated with transportation to the polling station or could be allowed to vote at mobile polling stations in the days to come.

Some of these measures may require amendments to election laws or conduct of election rules. The EC will also ensure that special measures aimed at boosting participation of physically-challenged voters meet the essential requirements of sanctity and secrecy of vote.

Braille & sign language: The EC had last week announced steps aimed at better involvement of differently-abled voters in the electoral process. This included printing of electoral photo identity cards in Braille, mobile app to educate and motivate voters with disabilities, sign language window for deaf voters and free transport facility for them along with their assistants.

Mapping: The commission will be taking further steps including identifying barriers to participation of disabled voters and finding solutions, mapping of PwDs through mapping or initial voter registration, customized voter education to cater to different requirements of PwDs, developing user-friendly websites for PwDs of different categories, engaging the help of government and civil society organisations for capacity building and constitution of special committees on accessible elections.

Photo caption: Background banner having logos of partner organizations including Svayam

Photo caption: Background banner having logos of partner organizations including Svayam

Svayam’s Recommendations to ECI:

  1. Accessible polling stations at the ground floor, including, wide entrance, adequate & dedicated parking within 30 meters, levelled / obstacles free pathways; ramps, signage, direction signs, pictograms of PS, lighting, wheelchair, toilets, drinking water facility, seating arrangement and а/vs to be as per access standards, as mandated in the Rules of the RPDA 2016. EVM chamber should meet access standards like wheel chair manoeuvring space, height of table, proper signage, ample illumination as well as contrast, auditory clues and so on. Specific reasonable accommodations
  2. In the EVM, the party symbols need to be provided in tactile format such that a visually impaired person can touch and know what it is. There should be a provision where a voter with visual impairment can connect an earphone so that he/she could hear what they have pressed. Long cables that enable adjusting EVMs, approach to EVM from sideways for people of short stature, etc, to be worked out as there is difficulty in reaching the topmost icon.
  3. An easy read version of candidate / ballot sheet, with large pictures, should be hung or kept near the EVM for people with low vision/ intellectual disabilities / high support needs. Alternative methods of casting a ballot such as – Touch screens, a handheld device with Braille labels, magnifiers, joystick, etc need to be considered for all 21 types of disabilities, according to one’s requirement.
  4. Postal ballot, mobile ballot units (including polling vans to have scheduled stops at hospitals/ rehab institutions to enable participation of people admitted/working, etc), sms voting facility enabled during poll hours and online voting options need to be explored.
  5. Allocation of budget to be made for raising awareness on accessible electoral process too.
  6. Selection of election ambassador with disability and Civil Society Organisation (CSO) / Disabled Persons Organisation (DPO) for support can to be facilitated through the district committee under Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 and election commission.
  7. Election Commission should hire persons with disabilities including women with disabilities as polling officers in all districts.
  8. Election Commission of India should issue a circular mandating all political parties to make their communication (websites, manifestos, speeches), their offices, venues, etc to be accessible/ in all accessible formats for all persons with disabilities.
  9. Election Commission of India should issue a circular to the media (TV etc) to make their information accessible.
  10. Election Observer’s checklist to include indicators on accessible electoral process for persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities can be engaged as observers too.
  11. Specific provision of punitive measure for non-compliance of the notices / guidelines or directives regarding “accessibility for persons with disabilities / Women with Disabilities in the electoral process” by the stakeholders including election commission, should be a part of the ECI policy, including well defined monitoring mechanism for implementation.
  12. Human Resource at polling booths (all polling officers, volunteers, police personnel, etc) need to be sensitized and trained on interacting with and providing service to voters with disabilities. Each polling station must have women volunteers / trained lady police to help the women voters with disabilities.
  13. Consider providing a dummy Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) to educate voters with disabilities on operating the EVM to cast their vote.
  14. Ensure pedestrian and sidewalk accessibility of polling stations
  15. Polling station should have accessible pictograms. Directional signage to be provided to orient electors with disabilities
  16. Should have provision of human assistance.
  17. Service animal/guide dogs should be allowed along with electors with disability during vote caste.
  18. Develop a robust checklist to ensure polling stations are accessible to disabled / elderly voters
  19. Awareness regarding the electoral rights of persons with disabilities, about the manner in which these citizens can exercise their right to vote and access justice and redress in case of violation of rights.
  20. Priority to be given to electors with disability for entering the polling station, without having wait time.

Examples of Good Practices (by Svayam):

  1. Goa Assembly elections 2017 enabled a polling booth fully manned by persons with disabilities.
  2. Sign language interpreter was assigned to control room with video call facility during by-Elections to Dr. Radhakrishnan Nagar Assembly constituency, Chennai in 2017
  3. During 2017 Punjab assembly elections, disability district coordinators (PwDs) were provided id cards from respective district administrations to conduct access audit of polling booths based on an accessible polling booths checklist prepared by Disability Rights Alliance India. The coordinators were also accompanied by staff from the district revenue offices in their office vehicles. The reports presented were acted upon in many polling booths.
  4. CEO TN’ s efforts during 2016 assembly elections where election street plays incorporated a sign language interpreter was much appreciated by Deaf groups. A locally made access audit app enabled access audit of most polling booths in Chennai and its reporting to CEO’s server, very simple and easy.

Election Commissioner Shri Ashok Lavasa remarked that the set of recommendations (submitted by Svayam and other organizations) will be examined thoroughly and efforts will be made to implement them in a time-bound manner. 


Posted in Accessible Elections, Accessible India Campaign, Persons with Disabilities, Svayam, Svayam India | Leave a comment

Svayam & DIAL sign MoU to make IGI Airport Facilities Accessible for Travellers with Disabilities & those with Reduced Mobility

New Delhi  |  20th June 2018

Today, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between Svayam, an initiative of the Sminu Jindal Trust, and the Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL), to improve the Facilitation for Persons with Reduced Mobility (PRM) and accessibility at existing and future buildings and services at the Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGI) projects.

Photo taken after signing the MoU between Svayam & FAAS. Photo of senior officials of both organizations.

Mr. Douglas G. Webster, Chief Operations Officer, DIAL (centre) & Mr. O.P. Sharma, AGM Ops (extreme right) with Svayam officials (Mr. Jagmohan Syal, Ms. Mohini Chugh, Mr. Subhash Chandra Vashishth (second from right) during the signing of MoU.

Svayam is a Delhi based non profit, focusing on dignity and inclusion for persons with reduced mobility through #Accessibility4All in physical & virtual infrastructure and services. It works in the areas of promoting inclusive mobility, transportation systems, tourism, education, health, ICT,   products, etc. It is also empaneled as Access Auditor under the “Accessible India Campaign” of Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, Govt. of India.

As a part of MoU, Svayam will conduct access audits and design appraisals of the Terminal Buildings and Services provided to passengers in general and persons with reduced mobility in particular. The agreement also includes sharing of technology,  user testing by stakeholders, training & sensitization programs.  Svayam will hold experience sharing sessions for senior officials of DIAL, CISF, Indian Customs and AFRRO’s, etc.

Regular training is necessary to keep the staff better equipped on how to address the needs of passengers with disabilities and those with reduced mobility. It also becomes crucial due to higher attrition rates in aviation sector. Therefore, Svayam will also provide training to stakeholders involved in providing services at the IGI airport that may include Operators, Government Agencies, Ground Handling Agencies, Airlines, Vendors, etc.

Ms. Sminu Jindal, Founder-Chairperson, Svayam, said: “This MoU between Svayam and DIAL will prove to be a milestone in our shared journey towards ‘Inclusive Air Travel’ in India and help make air travel hassle-free for passengers with reduced mobility travelling from and to Delhi Airport.”

“For a long time, a need was felt for creating a constant platform for opening a dialogue between the aviation sector and PRM user groups, and we are sure this MoU will fulfil that need. Our team will not only advise DIAL on improving the facilities at the airports, but also impart sensitization training to the airport staff on how to better address the needs of passengers with disabilities and those with reduced mobility by involving all stakeholders.” said Mr. Subhash Chandra Vashishth, Director, Svayam.

The Government of India has notified & enforced the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 to give effect to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Act under Chapter VIII (section 39 through 44) details the duties and responsibilities of appropriate governments and in particular covers subject like Awareness campaigns on rights of persons with disabilities among stakeholders, Accessibility, Access to transport, Access to information and communication technology, Consumer goods & Mandatory observance of accessibility norms. The DGCA has also issued a Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR) on Carriage by Air of Persons with Disabilities and those with Reduced Mobility which mandates accessibility at the airports, airlines and services and regular sensitization training for staff among other facilities.


Posted in Marginalised pedestrians on Indian Roads | 1 Comment

Svayam Founder delivers a ‘Motivational Talk’ at the Base Hospital Delhi Cantt

New Delhi | 12 May 2018

On the invitation of the Base Hospital Delhi Cantt,  Ms. Sminu Jindal, Chairperson-Svayam,  visited Base Hospital to deliver a ‘Motivational Talk’ to the injured soldiers and their family members, doctors and hospital staff, on 11th May 2018. She was received by Major General Manu Arora, The Commandant, Base Hospital Delhi Cantt.

Ms. Sminu Jindal,  delivering the motivational talk at Base Hospital Delhi Cantt

During her motivational talk, Ms. Jindal talked about the initial struggles of her life, and shared that looking at life positively despite disabilities or age is the key to success and happiness.

“When you acquire a disability, you have two options; what you can do, and what you cannot do. Instead of regretting what you cannot do, it is vital that you focus on your existing abilities and see what you can do with those abilities.” said Ms. Jindal.

“Sitting at home like a sad man cannot be a choice. Don’t give anyone an excuse to call you or make you feel ‘बेचारा’ (hapless), she continued. Sharing her own life story, she added, “Due to an accident at the age of 11, I became a wheelchair user for the rest of my life. Apprehensive that others might make fun of me, I did not want to go to school, and instead wanted to study at home. However, my parents ensured that I got a normal school education, so that I could grow and do things like any other child. That way, my parents did not give me any excuse to feel  ‘’बेचारा’ !

Ms. Jindal told the rehabilitating soldiers, “I can only give you an outlook. I always admired the soldiers who fight at the borders for others. When you did not bow down in the battlefield on the border, please do not bow down in the battlefield of life. Life is also a war, so fight it and figure out your own path.”

Ms. Sminu Jindal speaking to officers of the Base Hospital Delhi Cantt.

Talking about accessibility and the need of greater awareness, the Svayam founder said: “The prevailing misconception that ramps, lifts and accessible technologies are only for the disabled, need to be demolished. We all need accessibility for ease and safety. Accessibility is a ray of hope which ensures that we can go out and earn our living with dignity. Accessible built environment is crucial to tap the enormous talents in persons with reduced mobility.”

“No matter how long or dark the tunnel is, a single ray of light gives you hope – and  accessibility is that ray,” she added.

Ms. Jindal also emphasized that Svayam is pressing upon the government to build one accessible toilet in every village with local material and technology. “This will set an example for others to follow.”

“If our village schools have accessible toilets, our retired or rehabilitated soldiers living in the village can go out and teach. This is another dimension of inclusive education,” she added.

Ms. Jindal at the Base Hospital, Delhi Cantt

Ms. Jindal said: “We need to raise awareness. If voices are many, it will create an impact. Can we not add ‘सुगम्यता’ (accessibility) along with our usual demands – बिजली, पानी और सड़क (electricity, potable water & roads) ? The government has to realize that it needs to look at all sections of society. Then only, ‘सबका साथ, सबका विकास’  (inclusive development) will become a reality!”

She said: “The choice of our daily activities should depend on us, and not on our built environment. That’s why Svayam is working with ministries and government departments to ensure our public infrastructure is accessible. Also, merely making government buildings accessible is not enough, private buildings (open to public) also need to be accessible.”

While answering a query raised by a soldier, Ms. Jindal said: “A सैनिक  (soldier) never bows down before an enemy. But today, negativity might be your main enemy; would you bow down? No! you need to have a positive outlook towards life and lot of enthusiasm to beat this enemy.”

Encouraging the Indian armed forces to spread the awareness about importance of accessibility in built and virtual environment towards an more inclusive and caring society,  she also praised the work of Base Hospital Rehab Centre, and said that with good rehabilitation and counselling, injured soldiers and their family members can quickly learn to adapt and accept the challenges before them in the life with a positive mindset.

Major General Manu Arora, the Commandant, felicitated the Svayam Founder, and praised her initiatives of spreading such a positive, wonderful outlook towards life through her  initiative, Svayam. The Major General exhorted the soldiers and their families that there are shortcomings in everyone’s life, but we need to see what we can do with what we have, and what we can add. He also called upon the participants to link accessibility with their life’s missions.

Taking a cue from an article published in India Today in the year 1999 on the life and work of Ms. Jindal, Maj. Gen. Arora called Svayam Founder a person with true ‘nerves of steel’ and marveled at her achievements in the Indian Industry.

Mr. Subhash Chandra Vashishth, Director, Svayam, made a brief presentation to apprise the audience of his organization’s major projects and achievements in the area of advocacy and policy reforms to achieve the dream of an inclusive and enabling built environment to respect dignity of human lives.

Posted in Motivational Talk by Ms. Sminu Jindal, Ms. Sminu Jindal, Persons with Disabilities, Subhash Chandra Vashishth, Svayam, Svayam India | Leave a comment

Svayam led delegation meets DG, BCAS to discuss SoP to address problems faced by Persons with Disabilities during Security Screening at Airports

06 April, 2018, New Delhi

Svayam led delegation discussing the issues with the Director General, Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS)

Svayam led delegation discussing changes in SoPs with DG, BCAS

A team of stakeholders led by Svayam met Shri Kumar Rajesh Chandra, Director General, Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) and his team of senior officials to discuss the challenges faced by persons with disabilities and those with reduced mobility during security screening at the Indian Airports. This was pursuant to the National Meeting of Stakeholders organised by Svayam to discuss issues faced during air travel by persons with disabilities and those with reduced mobility, on 22 November 2017, at the Constitution Club of India, New Delhi, and consequent submission of our collated recommendations to the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment & Ministry of Civil Aviation.

The meeting took place on 06th April 2018 at the BCAS HQ at Janpath Bhawan, New Delhi. The meeting offered yet another chance to stakeholders to actively participate in the process and negotiate for their demands for accessible, dignified air travel.

The stakeholders were represented at the meeting by Mr. Subhash Chandra Vashishth (Director, Svayam), Mr. Nipun Malhotra (CEO, Nipman Foundation) and Ms. Smitha Sadasivan (Member, Disability Rights Alliance).

Svayam led delegation discussing SoPs with the senior officials of the BCAS

Svayam led delegation discussing changes in SoPs with senior officials of BCAS

The DG, BCAS, at the outset, gave a brief background of the steps taken by the BCAS and assured the stakeholders that the BCAS would take the right steps in this direction to address the issues faced by disabled flyers. He also clarified that while BCAS deals with the issue of security related protocols, DGCA deals with issue of safety & passenger conveniences.

There was a point-wise discussion on the existing Standard Operating Procedures (SoPs) and recommendations by the stakeholders as compiled by Svayam and submitted to the Ministry of Civil Aviation in December 2017. The BCAS officials informed that the Bureau had issued an Addendum dated 03rd October 2017 to the Standard Operating Procedure (SoP) dated 31st March 2014   for screening passengers with special needs and medical conditions. But they agreed that these passengers still face difficulties and embarrassment, and hence more changes are required.  A copy of this Addendum can be accessed here and copy of SOPs here.

Some of the major issues which were discussed included; use of full body scanners, scanning orthosis and prosthesis without invading privacy or causing avoidable discomfort; screening of battery operated wheelchairs, poor quality of airport wheelchairs, allowing airport passes for non-travelling passenger/companion for persons with disabilities, relieving areas for service animals etc.

BCAS officials explained that while “Millimeter wave scanners” though considered safe, require persons to stand in a certain posture, hence it is not suitable for wheelchair users. Other forms of X-ray technologies are not considered due to privacy and radiation issues. Therefore, a mix of multiple security protocols (such as visual profiling, ETD, physical frisking) have to be deployed to scan the wheelchairs in addition to the scanners.

While the issue of prosthesis screening has been largely resolved for cases where the steel rod is discernible, the orthosis has remained a challenge as it uses foam padding to prevent injuries. Presence of foam raises suspicion, requiring deployment of intensive screening procedures to ensure there are no hidden weapons.

On the issue of oxygen cylinders and special medical equipment, the BCAS officials said that they would like to know the best practices from the stakeholders to improve on the screening procedures.

Protocols for screening of service animals is relevantly a new area and challenges were mainly in the areas of soft training of screening staff.  The officials promised to address this issue. It was felt that the availability of “relieving areas” for service animals at the airports was an issue in the domain of DGCA hence this would be taken up with relevant authorities in our next meet.

The stakeholders are requested to send their feedback/ comments, if any on the above issues or any additional issues related to security screening to

Posted in Accessible Transport, BCAS's SOPs for Screening of Passengers with Disabilities, Dignified Air Travel for Disabled, Subhash Chandra Vashishth, Svayam, Svayam Events, Svayam India, Svayam Press Releases | Leave a comment

Ms. Sminu Jindal exhorts Young Indians to work for accessibility at CII- Yi Summit TakePride-2018, Mumbai

10 March 2018, Mumbai

Svayam’s Founder-Chairperson Ms. Sminu Jindal today addressed the CII-Yi: Annual Youth Summit – TakePride 2018, held at the historic Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) in Mumbai, along with several visionary speakers fromMs. Sminu Jindal, Founder Svayam addressing CII-Yi: Annual Youth Summit – TakePride 2018, Mumbai across the sectors who spoke during the two-day annual event during 09-10 March 2018. These included Kamal Haasan (actor), Ajeet Khurana (Head – Blockchain & Cryptocurrency Committee of India), Anand Piramal (Founder – Piramal Realty), Arnav Ghosh (CEO – India, Blippar), Ashish Chauhan, (MD & CEO Bombay Stock Exchange), Balki R, (Filmmaker), Boman Irani (actor), Chandrajit Banerjee (Director General CII), Dia Mirza (actor), Dr. R. Mashelkar (renowned Scientist – Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan & Padma Vibhushan Honouree), Gauri Shinde (filmmaker), Krishnakumar T (President – Coca Cola India & Southwest Asia), Lavanya Nalli (Chairperson – Nalli Group), Madhukeshwar Desai (Vice President – Youth Wing Of BJP), Mickey Mehta (Celebrity Fitness Guru & Coach To Femina Miss India Pageant), Radhanath Swami (Spiritual Teacher), Suresh Narayanan (CMD – Nestle India).

The Young Indians (Yi), the annual flagship leadership Summit by the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) is known to celebrate the achievements of entrepreneurs, inspire young entrepreneurs, and mull over the future roadmap. TakePride offers a platform to both sung and unsung heroes/champions who share an inspiring story and leave food for thought for the young leaders of CII-Yi eventually both in the interest of the organization as well as their personal- professional trajectory.

Ms. Jindal spoke at length on the subject close to her heart – accessibility. Around 600 Young Indians (Yi) from 40 Chapters across 27 states listened to her address that touched on her early years after car accident, her struggles in the men-dominated steel and gas industry, and her initiative Svayam and its numerous achievements in making India accessible.

Talking about her accident, she said: “I met with a car accident at the age of 11 as my driver was drunk; I became a wheelchair user for the rest of my life due to severe spinal injury. Initially, I could not cope with what had happened with me at that tender age. I was gloomy as I could not dance anymore, though my parents ensured I lived a normal life and got best education. They got ramps and lifts built at home and school and the college. I was born in an affluent family, but then I thought what about others who do not have resources. That is how accessibility became my passion as I wanted to see everyone with reduced mobility to live his/her life in safe, dignified and productive way.”

She told the highly attentive audience that accessibility benefits everyone and not just persons with disabilities. “Think about an elderly, a pregnant woman, and an injured. We have to accept the reality and be ready for it. Think about arthritis and accidents. Also, India’s 65 per cent population is below 35; think about 30 years from now. Will they not need accessible infrastructure and services? We have to be ready now before it hits us,” she said.Ms. Sminu Jindal's address to Young Indians at Bombay Stock Exchange

Ms. Jindal added: “People retire at 60, but thanks to the improved healthcare, we have longer years post retirement. Due to lack of accessible infrastructure, people tend to remain in the golden cages called homes. So, this is not about only 2 per cent population (persons with disabilities). It is a much larger issue. If older adults get accessible homes and public infrastructure, they will, of course, come out and shop, visit places which not only increases their own happiness quotient, but also boosts our GDP. This is how we can make them feel useful, else they may feel redundant. We are all social animals & can’t live in silos.”

She wondered why accessibility is treated as a sub topic under disability. She narrated the infamous Jet Airways incidence of December 2007 when she was asked to sign an indemnity bond. The signing would have absolved the airliner from all the responsibilities. She had refused to sign the bond and later the airliner had to issue a public apology to her.
Ms. Jindal also strongly raised the issue of lack of accessible toilet in the aircrafts. “These airlines can have first class cabin and luxurious showering room, but not an accessible toilet! Imagine holding your bladder for 6-10 hours in a long-haul flight,” she wondered.

Svayam’s Founder told the young audience how Svayam helped the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to make the first ever World Heritage Site of Qutub Minar accessible, followed by other WHS such as the Taj Mahal, Red Fort and Fatehpur Sikri Group of Monuments. “The footprints increased phenomenally after these monuments were made accessible,” she said.

She also talked about Svayam’s contribution in 2011 Census’ campaign – “Stand Up and Be Counted”. It was the clarion call for persons with disabilities to have themselves enumerated in the final round of the 2011 Census. Svayam raised awareness, so that families did remember to answer question No. 9 – the question framed to gather information about number and categories of disabilities. During the campaign, Ms. Jindal had said that by hiding, person with disabilities deny themselves the right to be citizens and deny the government an opportunity to plan for their empowerment.

Ms. Jindal said, “There is no shame in having a disability. You may have a disability; still, you can be glamourous and pursue your passion as usual.”

She also said that the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 has increased number of disabilities from 7 to 21. “This increases the importance of accessibility in built environment.”

Ms. Jindal also talked about Svayam’s international presence. In 2012, the Transport Research Board’s (TRB) Standing Committee on Accessible Transportation and Mobility (ABE60) agreed to establish the Permanent Secretariat of the Triennial TRANSED Series of conferences to be run by Svayam as its sole contribution to the promotion of mobility and transportation for the elderly and the disabled people.

She also talked about small little changes which can make big differences in the lives of people with reduced mobility, such as a proper ramp gradient, wider doors, ‘but most importantly an open heart!’

“If I can, you can, and together, we can,” Ms. Sminu Jindal exhorted the young audience to work for accessibility now for their own better tomorrow.

Young Indians (Yi) Tweeted:


Posted in Access at World Heritage Monuments, Access to Heritage Sites, Accessibility in public infrastructure, Accessible India Campaign, Accessible Railways, Accessible Transport, Airlines discriminate against disabled, Barrier Free, barrier free homes, barrier free public buildings, Census 2011, Delhi, Dignified Air Travel for Disabled, Entrepreneurs, Ms. Sminu Jindal, Persons with Disabilities, Qutb Minar, Sminu Jindal, TRANSED Conferences, Transportation Research Board, World Heritage Site Fatehpur Sikri, World Heritage Site Qutb Minar Delhi, World Heritage Site Red Fort, World Heritage Site Taj Mahal, Young Indians | Leave a comment

Svayam Founder featured on AXSChat

Dear Colleagues,

#AXSChat is an open online community of individuals on Twitter, dedicated to creating an inclusive world who believe that accessibility is for everyone. Every week, #AXSChat features a different guest who is contributing to making the world a more inclusive place through technology or innovating to enable wider participation in society for people with disabilities.

In this series, on 24 February 2018, our Founder-Chairperson Ms. Sminu Jindal was invited by AXSChat team for an online interview.  The live interview conducted by Mr. Neil Milliken (England), Mr. Antonio Santos (Ireland) and Ms. Debra Ruh (United States) focused on a number of issues around accessibility, sustainability, ICT, Smart Cities and Svayam’s contribution towards an inclusive world.

Ms. Jindal spoke at length on importance of raising awareness about accessibility and how it benefits everyone and not merely the persons with disabilities. She highlighted the grey areas in transport sector especially the aviation sector where long haul flights still did not consider accessible toilets as a necessity and why the stakeholders across the world continue to suffer in silence without making a hue and cry about it! She emphasized that on-board accessible toilet isn’t a luxury but a basic human right for persons with reduced mobility!

She also said that youth need to be sensitized as they can become change makers for a more sustainable and accessible world. Ms. Jindal emphasized on the importance of accessible toilet at every school in rural areas, so that the people still not exposed to the benefits of the accessibility are able to experience the benefits and be inspired to make their own toilets accessible. This would also enable the persons with reduced mobility such as older adults to contribute to national building.

Watch the full interview here and continue to support #Accessibility4All

Posted in Access at World Heritage Monuments, Access audit of community infrastructure, Access Audits, Access to Heritage Sites, Accessibility in public infrastructure, Accessible Cities, Accessible India Campaign, Accessible Transport, Marginalised pedestrians on Indian Roads, Ms. Sminu Jindal, Public Transport System, Sminu Jindal, Sustainable Transport, Svayam, Svayam India, Svayam Press Releases | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

CSR Vision interviews Ms. Sminu Jindal, Our Founder

CSR Vision   Volume – 6, Issue: 8, December 2017

An indefatigable accessibility crusader, Ms. Sminu Jindal is a visionary entrepreneur who broke the myth that women cannot lead the big business entities. She successfully took the Jindal SAW Limited, a part of the $18 billion Jindal Group of Industries, to greater heights. In 2000, she founded ‘Svayam’- an initiative of the S.J. Charitable Trust, with an aim to make this world, particularly India, accessible and dignified for the people with reduced mobility. Svayam has worked with ministries, departments and organizations to bring about path-breaking changes in the accessibility landscape in India, including making the World Heritage Site Qutub Minar accessible to the people with reduced mobility.

In a brief chat with Mr. Santosh Kumar, the CSR Vision correspondent, Ms. Sminu Jindal, MD, Jindal SAW Ltd. & Founder-Chairperson, Svayam, talks about lack of awareness about accessibility, importance of making rural India accessible, accessibility as a CSR option, and how inclusive schooling can be a game changer, among other things. Excerpts from the interview:

When people hear the word ‘Accessibility’, they immediately link it with the disabled or disability, while the truth is that accessibility is required by anyone with reduced mobility such as the elderly, expecting mother and the injured. How do you remove this ‘Big Confusion’ and convince people as well as the policymakers about this everyone’s need?

Photo of Ms. Sminu Jindal, Founder Svayam

“There is a widespread lack of awareness about accessibility which benefits all” – Ms. Sminu Jindal, MD, Jindal SAW Ltd. & Founder-Chairperson, Svayam

That is very true. Due to lack of awareness, people generally assume that accessibility is only for the disabled. Also, people are either too sympathetic or totally apathetic towards the persons with disabilities. We need to accept that people with disabilities need opportunity, not charity. They are as normal as anyone else, and they don’t deserve any less or more dignity. And disability does not mean ‘inability’.

I think a greater, sustained and robust awareness is needed to spread the message amongst the people as well as the policymakers and other stakeholders that accessibility is for all; it benefits everyone. Doesn’t an accessible toilet help a pregnant lady, an elderly with reduced mobility or an injured, or a patient who just had an operation? Does a ramp only help a wheelchair user?

You have already made a name for yourself in the domain of accessibility, but there is lot to be done. What are your priority areas of action in this sector both at the level of policy as well as action?

Raising awareness is our top priority. Today, India’s 65% population is under 35, which means we will have the same number of elderly population after 30-40 years. So, we need to plan now. Secondly, as India is 70 per cent rural, accessibility is crucial in remote areas and villages. India can be made accessible only when rural India is accessible. The government should add accessibility as a non-negotiable clause in rural schemes such as Pradhan Mantri Gram Awas Yojana, so that a portion of fund is spent on making village infrastructure accessible.

Accessibility is crucial in huge impact areas such as railways, public infrastructure, various modes of transport, tourism and education, as it benefits a large population. So we focus more on these segments.

What do you think about the Government’s mission, “Sarva Siksha Abhiyan” (Education for All)? Does it help children with disabilities?

The Government’s mission, “Sarva Siksha Abhiyan” (Education for All) is a very good idea, but we have to ensure that every child with disabilities get to school.  For this, we need accessible school environment, trained and sensitized teachers, awareness, and accessible school transportation. PM’s slogan ‘Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas’ epitomizes the ethos of this great nation. But as I said, we need to take along everyone.

Parents of children with disabilities may feel that special schools are better places for their kids to get education, and that their children may face discomfort in regular schools, but they should understand that today’s discomfort will make their children face the world bravely when they grow up; they will be better equipped to handle the complexities and diversity of life. It will also sensitize other children towards the needs of the children with disabilities, so that they will appreciate the differences. This is true inclusion.

What has been your experience of working in the field of accessibility? What are the issues that you come across?

I feel lack of awareness is the main hurdle. That is why accessibility is often much lower on our priority list. Accessibility is also often neglected at the planning stage. If minimum non-negotiable clauses are added at the planning stage itself, we can save a lot of money because retro-fitting, post the completion of a project, costs 25-30% more.

As per a study conducted by our publication for the Department of Disability Affairs, GOI, awareness about disabilities and accessibility amongst the corporate is insignificant. As per your understanding what needs be done to generate awareness amongst the corporate India to enable them to do justice to their CSR budget by focusing on the disability and accessibility sector?

CSR Vision’s findings echo my perception. CEOs are no exceptions; they are not aware about potentials of enabling environment created by accessibility to attract and retain a committed and diverse manpower. They also look at disability as a charity, as opposed to persons with disabilities as equal rights holders. This charity approach is not sustainable. Time has come that Indian CEOs look at persons with disabilities as potential employees. They need to modify their HR policy to make it more inclusive. Researches also reveal that employees with disabilities are more committed, stay longer with their companies, and are more motivated. Companies only need to provide accessibility, and reasonable accommodation at workplaces. The cost for making offices accessible is negligible as compared to the value these employees add to the company.

We also need to work with persons with disabilities and their families, so as to bring a change in their attitude and perception towards life and work.

Traditionally, CSR budget is spent on segments like environment protection, skill development, health, girl child education, etc. After the latest amendments in the Companies Act, areas related to accessibility, inclusive education, culture, disability sports have also been added to the list which can be funded under the CSR budget. However, very few companies consider these new areas.

In absence of any committed action by the Government in the development of accessible infrastructure, what initiatives can be taken by the civil society/NGO to ensure the public infrastructure is accessible in the whole country, especially rural areas?

We can’t say that the government has no committed plan or action for accessibility. But yes, things might get delayed due to bureaucratic hurdles, or simply dye to lack of expertise and awareness. The role of NGOs is crucial in many ways. As I said more actions are needed in rural India, NGOs can help build the right momentum and make it a movement, empower people, raise consensus, and link the cause of accessibility to safety, well being and enhancing the quality of life for all.

You are known as an accessibility champion; accessibility is closer to your soul. You are also heading Jindal SAW Limited. How do you balance family life and work when your pursuit is so big and the pressure is so tremendous?

Accessibility is about quality of life, and giving opportunity to everyone to contribute to the GDP and the National Happiness Index (NHI). I think everyone should be an accessibility champion as it affects all of us at some point of our lives. Accessibility also ensures that old and disabled people live, and not just breathe.

Yes the work pressure is too much, but when your work is your passion, you don’t get tired, bored or detached. I am also fortunate to have a family which shares my passion, and is always there to support me, motivate me and tell me ‘never say die’. I am really very thankful to my family.

And today after 17 long years, Svayam has lakhs of people to support its mission. “हम अकेले ही चले थे जानिब-ए -मंज़िल मगर, लोग साथ आते गए और कारवां बनता गया ” | 

P.S. – This interview was originally published in CSR Vision Magazine and its PDF version is available at link CSR Vision [December 2017 edition](PDF File size 5.32MB)

Posted in Access at World Heritage Monuments, Accessibility in public infrastructure, Accessible India Campaign, Ms. Sminu Jindal, Sminu Jindal | Leave a comment