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Persons with disability await barrier-free public spaces dated 5.8.2022

Access to public and commercial buildings by PWD remains a cause for concern

The main challenge facing the organisers of an upcoming mass wedding for persons with disability (PWD) in the city is something that able-bodied people take for granted — access to the venue.

“We have had no problem finding people to get married, but we haven’t been able to convince the hall owners to install a ramp and railing to help PWD. So we had to organise it ourselves with a temporary structure,” P. Marikannan, State president, Tiruchi Disabled Welfare Association, told The Hindu.

Mr. Marikannan, who is a wheelchair user, and runs a tea stall besides helping PWD out with government-related paperwork, said that people with loco-motor disabilities were at a disadvantage because of the absence of infrastructure that can help them navigate public spaces independently.

“Many shops and complexes in the city are unsuitable for visually or physically challenged people. We are unable to enter places of worship easily,” he said.

The extensive civic works taken up as part of the Smart Cities mission is an opportunity to improve accessibility not just for PWD, but also senior citizens and physically weak persons, say activists.

“PWD cannot access banks because of their steep staircases. Despite seeing our struggle, bank managements do not want to make an effort to ease our plight. Most of us are unable to use ATM booths for the same reason,” said P. Kalaiyarasi, founder-director, Poornodhaya Trust in Kolakkudi.

Ms. Kalaiyarasi, who is physically challenged, added that the shortage of modified public toilets had made travel impossible for many PWD. “It is sad to see that disabled persons are expected to crawl on the wet floors of restrooms used by others,” she said.

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act of 2016 has made supportive infrastructure such as ramps, railings and modified toilets mandatory in government and private buildings. An ‘access audit’ is also being carried out to ensure that such facilities are installed at the earliest.

A senior official of the District Differently Abled Welfare Office (DDAWO) said that government offices and public spots in Tiruchi district had been shortlisted for this purpose by the access audit committee. “The first stage of renovation started in 17 spaces with the Collectorate, and with this office as model, 15 buildings have completed their access audit. In the second stage, we are targetting 32 places such as the Nathar Shah mosque, Kallanai, Puliyancholai, Anna Planetarium-Science Centre, Block Development Offices, temples and other places of public importance in the district,” he said.

For new buildings, user-friendly facilities for PWD will have to be part of the blueprint, said the official.