PROVISIONS FOR SPECIALLY-ABLED PEOPLE
According to the Census of India, 2011 disabled persons accounted for 2.21% of India’s population. Of these, 20.3% have a movement-related disability, 18.9% are those with hearing disabilities and 18.8% with vision-related disabilities. Currently, the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) (PWD) Act, 1995 specifies seven conditions as disabilities and makes special provisions for disabled persons with regard to their rehabilitation, and opportunities for employment and education. On February 7, 2014 the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014, which would replace the 1995 act if passed, was introduced in Rajya Sabha and referred to the Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment on September 16, 2014. The major highlights were that the bill specifies 19 conditions as disabilities and an increase in the reservations for the disabled to 5% from the existing 3% in higher educational Institutes. In 2007, India also became a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The UNCRPD requires signatory states to make appropriate changes in law and policy to give effect to rights of disabled persons. Subsequently the Ministry of Urban Development in February 2016 released the ‘Harmonised Guidelines and Space Standards for Barrier-Free Built Environment for persons with Disability and Elderly Persons’. These guidelines have been framed to guide design of spaces to ensure equitable, easy access to persons with disabilities at State Town and Country Planning Departments, Urban Development Authorities, Urban Local Bodies, and various other Institutions.
Speaking of NITR, the institute has around 34 seats reserved across all the branches at undergraduate level per batch. However, the total number of specially-abled students currently enrolled (across all the batches) is only 50 which is 0.1 % of the total population. Though factors for lower admissions are many, one cannot deny the fact that facilities available at the institute is also a major deciding factor for the specially-abled people to chose NITR as their favoured destination. Also, a majority of these people suffer from locomotary disability which raises two important questions. Are we capable enough to admit students from all the specified 19 conditions? If yes, how many? Team MM discussed these issues at length with the stakeholders. Following are the insights.
Most of the departments in the campus have one or more floors in addition to the ground floor. With laboratory and theory classes being organised across various floors, it becomes essential to provide mechanisms for the easy mobility of the Physically Disabled students. At present, only the EC/EI, LA and the BM/BT departments are equipped with lifts. On the other hand, ramps hardly exist in the campus, with only the BM/BT department having it.
Ramps allow persons in wheelchair to move from one level to another. However, many ambulant Persons with Disabilities negotiate steps more easily and safely. Hence, it is preferable to provide accessibility by both steps and ramps. Where there is a large change in elevation that requires multiple ramps and landing combination, other solutions such as elevators should be considered. The minimum size of the lift should be 1500 mm wide by 1500mm deep; wherever possible, 13 passenger lift is to be provided, which allows easy maneuverability for the wheelchair user. The provision of a mirror on the wall of the lift car opposite the lift door is a positive aid of navigation for wheelchair users. It allows the wheelchair user to see if anyone is behind them and also to see the floor indicator panel. Where it is impracticable to provide a lift or a ramp, a wheelchair stair-lift or platform lift should be considered as a reasonable alternative for vertical circulation within the building.
Toilets (Both Academic Blocks and Hostels) are a basic necessity and are present in sufficient number in all the buildings of NITR. However, they have there own share of problems including that of sanitation, water scarcity and most importantly poor accessibility.
Unisex accessible toilet allows Persons with Disabilities to be assisted by carers of the same or opposite gender. In all public buildings, one unisex accessible toilet should be provided in each toilet block on each floor. Apart from this all toilet blocks must have one cubicle suitable for use by persons with ambulatory disabilities. Toilet doors should be at least 900 mm wide, operational using one hand finger control, tight grasping, pinching or twisting of the wrist.
An emergency alarm cum call switch should be provided within easy reach level to allow the user to call for help in case of an emergency. Accessories should be placed in close proximity to the basin, to avoid a person with wet hands wheeling a chair. A mirror installed should be tilted at an angle for better visibility for a wheelchair user.
At least one of the urinals and shower cubicles in the Gents toilets on each floor should have grab bars; installed on each side and in the front of the urinal to support ambulant Persons with Disabilities (for example, crutch users).
Accessible parking lots that serve a building should be located nearest to an accessible entrance and/or lift lobby within 30 meters. In case the access is through lift, the parking shall be located within 30 meters.
All the hostels should have a specified number of separate rooms equipped with toilets for the PD students. The floor of the rooms should be hard, non-slip and even surface providing continued common surface not interrupted by steps or sudden changes in level. Besides this, the rooms should be spacious enough to provide space for a wheel chair with a turning radius of 1.5 m. At present only the V.S. Hall of Residence has the existing facilities which too is insufficient. Similar provisions should also be made in either CVR and KMS. Among boys hostel, GDB/MV should also be equipped with similar facilities so that freshers could be accommodated in the same hall along with their friends.
Under this category all the lecture halls, the auditoriums and spectator seating in sports centres and other assembly halls with fixed seating should have a number of spaces designated for wheelchair users in a seating area (generally 1/100th of the total seats). Some seats with removable or flip-up armrests should be provided at row ends to accommodate a wheelchair user or a person with limited ambulatory mobility. A level floor area for wheelchair users should be placed at row ends and should be scattered on different levels so as to have a variety of seating and viewing locations. Neither of the auditoriums in NITR have the facility at present.
As per rules, any student at NITR is allowed absence up to the extent of 15% (approx.) of scheduled number of classes in every course and a further relaxation of 15% (approx) with a grade back. A number of students feel that should get a further relaxation of 5-10% so as to cope with the hectic schedule without any penalties.
In order to register in the following semester, a student must obtain a CGPA of not lower than 5.70 (at the end of second year) and 6.0 for three consecutive semesters. The PD students face a lot of problems to be at par with the other students in the class in terms of academics. Most of them were of the view to have additional doubt clearing classes especially for them. Speaking on the problem, Manoj Kumar Biswal, a Ph. D. Scholar stated “A number of jobs in the public sector want a student to have a minimum 50% overall during the undergraduate. However, as per the institute rules, we need to secure more than that which should be revised.”
The Department of Disability, Ministry of Social justice and empowerment in its order in 2013 gives any student with a disability of more than 40% a right to ask for scribe for assistance in examinations and laboratory experiments. The institute should also provide an additional time of no less than 20 minutes extra per hour of the examination if required. The final decision is in the hands of the authorities. However, a number of students are unaware and hence never apply in the 1st place. MM would suggest the inclusion of all these rights in the rule book so that the students could be made aware about it.
Even though the population may be meagre, the specially abled people are an important part of the NITR family. It is our responsibility to make sure that they face less difficulties. The institute can consider the establishment of a special cell comprising of the stake holders to look after the affairs of the disabled people including campus planning, awarding scholarships and others. The aim should be to make the institute accessible to every student. Equitable access leads to increased opportunities for people with disabilities to access services and to fully participate in the social, cultural and recreational life of India.