GUWAHATI, Nov 21 – It is a life of acute physical isolation for a person, who once enjoyed the sights and sounds of the outdoors. Today, Preetam Das (name changed) cannot even hope to travel inside Guwahati city where she was born and educated. Stricken by polio as a child, she rues that even though the city has grown in so many ways, it does not have a transport system conducive to the disabled and the elderly.
“I feel sad that I cannot travel in a vehicle that would provide me the required comfort and safety…using any form of public transport is out the question for someone in my condition,” the senior citizen said.
Subhash, a young businessperson and a city resident, had met with an accident last year and seriously injured his legs. He was referred to a hospital in Patna, and his journey by train proved to be the most painful one in his life. The railways, he mentioned, are absolutely unfair to the disabled particularly when it comes to sanitation.
“I have seen a dangerous situation developing right before my eyes inside the Gauhati University Campus. Students and visitors with disabilities face great hurdles in crossing the road that bisects the campus. They confront considerable risks before they can cross the busy road near the main gate,” observed Hazart Ali, a faculty with Paschim Guwahati Mahavidyalay.
He favoured a pedestrian overbridge with a disabled friendly design that would enable safe passage to all, including wheelchair users.
In Guwahati, as in other fast developing urban areas of the State, the disabled face a nightmare when it comes to sanitation in commercial areas or other public places. Although citizens have made repeated complaints, tangible developments are yet to be seen.
Reports of similar nature have frequently come in from various parts of Assam, all hinting that the authorities concerned have created an insensitive place for the disabled and the elderly when it comes to providing amenities both from the public and the private sector.
According to sources working in the disability sector, the divide between a healthy adult and a physically challenged individual has grown in urban areas when it comes to transport, sanitation and leisure activities. While the options open to the general population has expanded manifold, the disabled are being denied access to most facilities, a fact even more ironic in a state that has a substantial population of disabled people.
A senior engineer of a State Government Department, who did not wish to be named, admitted that the issue of disabled friendly design is not integral to most projects which are going on or are in the planning stage. ‘Instructions to engineers and contractors do not specifically mention such aspects,’ he stated.
Those in the disability sector argue that ‘inclusive design’ should be made mandatory in all public buildings and infrastructure. According to them, it does not cost much to create such amenities if they are incorporated at the planning stages.