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A plea to make Bhopal an ‘accessible’ Smart City (Advocacy & Lobbying)

Inclusive structures, safe public spaces remain elusive for disabled

In 2012, an international child rights agency offered a unique opportunity to Poonam Shroti, who was desperately looking for a break from a dull corporate job. She excitedly reached the interview spot — a multi-storeyed hotel, with her mother pushing the wheelchair. But the absence of a ramp as well as a lift left her dispirited, and she came back home feeling rejected.

“I tell myself it wasn’t worth it in the first place. This showed they didn’t care about disability,” says Ms. Shroti, who has osteogenesis imperfecta, a bone disorder that has rendered her 100% disable. “Don’t let a disabled feel disabled, and you end up empowering them.”

Incapacitated by pothole-ridden roads, steep ramps and uneven pathways, she is now making a fervent pitch for a disabled-friendly Bhopal Smart City. If there could be a ‘Swachh Bhopal’, why couldn’t we have an ‘Accessible Bhopal’, Ms. Shroti, recipient of a President’s Award in 2016, explained.

Even to visit her aunt’s place just 50 metres away, she is reluctantly pushed to negotiate a minefield of potholes. And for her disability, a bump on the road is enough to crack her fragile bones, and a jerk to trigger vertigo. Days ago, when her car driver pressed the brakes too late while approaching a speed breaker, a finger in her left hand cracked.

Double whammy

“Did the project involve the disabled in formulating policies concerning them? Was there a survey?” she asked. For her, a Smart City must include accessible roads, washrooms and parking spots that are routinely audited. “For disabled women, navigating public spaces is a double whammy. There is the added element of personal safety.”

Only Singapore has offered her a workable remedy. During 10 days there, not once did she have to get her wheelchair lifted — not even in buses and metro rails — or have people stare at her. Thrilled, she could travel the city independently.

“I returned with the sombre feeling of being a dependant again,” said Ms. Shroti, 38.

Inaccessible spaces have also blocked her professional growth. Though she had an MBA in Finance, recruiters hurled a multitude of limiting questions at her. In essence, corporates shied away from making structural and attitudinal changes to be disabled-friendly.

Now, Ms. Shroti trains recruiters on inclusive employment and is also a motivational speaker and India’s only 100% disabled interviewer for a weekly series called ‘Super 10’ on Newscrust, a website.