Monday, November 12, 2012

RTI coverage in 'The Hindu'

Today's (12 Nov 2012) edition of the widely acclaimed daily 'The Hindu' also covers the RTI story of inaccessible Delhi post offices. I am producing the content below (with prior permission):

Many post offices not accessible to disabled, reveals RTI query


Postal orders may be the favoured choice of most Right to Information (RTI) applicants, but when it comes to accessing the post offices, many of them and in particular, those who are differently-abled suffer great difficulty. This has been highlighted by a RTI activist and a practising doctor Satendra Singh through a series of responses he obtained from the Department of Posts.
Dr. Singh, who is an Assistant Professor with University College of Medical Sciences of Delhi University and works at Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital in North-East Delhi, himself suffers from polio and uses calliper support for mobility.
Talking to The Hindu, he said it was as in-charge of the Enabling Unit at the hospital that he was told by various students about the problems they encountered in entering post offices that made him pursue the matter. “The post office in our campus is on the first floor and is not easily approachable. So I initially lodged a complaint with the Medical Superintendent of GTB Hospital about the issue and then took to filing RTI applications to learn more about the apathy towards this subject.”
Dr. Singh said the issue pertains not only to the differently-abled but also to the elderly as they are the ones who use the post offices the most for getting their pensions or sending money orders.
Dr. Singh said when he requested the postal department to give data about ease of accessibility of various post offices for the disabled, the South division claimed that 65 of its 67 post offices were “barrier-free”. It also claimed that “ramps have been constructed for free movement of wheelchairs” and “height of all the counters has been lowered for easy access”.
Similarly, he said, the West division, too, claimed “all the post offices of this division are easily accessible and barrier-free”.
“However, this is completely different from the ground situation in many places where disabled people, like me, find it difficult to access without any ramps or so,” said Dr. Singh.
He said in East Delhi, the response had revealed that six post offices were not accessible to all persons with disabilities and this included the GTB Hospital PO.
Dr. Singh noted that the responses also admitted that in most post offices there was “no facility for PwD to access at the first floor”. Stating that his goal was to sensitise the masses, he said, this year’s theme for International Day of Persons with Disabilities too was “removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all”.
However, in Delhi, as also elsewhere, he said India’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has made little impact as even the Capital city was yet to adopt the universal design for its various buildings in order to make them fully accessible. “Even one hurdle along the way can obstruct a PwD or elderly person’s approach to a building.”

Thursday, November 8, 2012

IIT Kanpur designs convertible, stair climbing wheelchair

Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur has bagged the GE India Innovation Award. Shanu Sharma, was recognized as the winner this year for her innovative design to create a convertible manual, stair climbing wheelchair.

GE India presented the 2nd annual GE India Innovation Award at CII’s annual event, ‘Decade of Innovation: India @Year 2’. The award by GE India is in line with its focus on localized innovations and efforts to foster and fuel a robust ecosystem for innovation in India. The award strives to honour individuals and corporate organizations across sectors who have contributed positively towards the development of the society through their designs and innovation.

Dr Gopichand Katragadda, managing director, GE India Technology Centre presented the cash prize of Rs.1,00,000 to the winner today at New Delhi.
Wheelchairs available today are not suitable or favourable to stair climbing and are a major constraint to accessibility for differently-abled people. But the wheelchair designed by Shanu Sharma, codenamed ‘Vardaan’, is designed for climbing stairs with mechanical benefit via lever ratchets system and braking system. A Y-shaped wheel has been designed and incorporated within the frame for better grip and optimum braking for climbing up and down a flight of stairs.

Presenting the award, Dr Katragadda, said that the design was simple and an effective mechanical concept to enable wheelchair users to manoeuvre over stairs. It is a common need especially in countries where wheel access is not ubiquitous. The most important step forward now is for hospitals and wheelchair manufactures to help make this concept a commercial success.

“Such examples showcase how innovation results in localized cost-effective approaches to solve problems specific to the markets they address. We, at GE, are focused on building capacity to solve India’s toughest challenges across energy, health and home, transportation and finance sectors. These in-country products have the potential to eventually disrupt developed markets as well,” he added.

Further, he highlighted the importance of emerging markets driving innovations in times of global uncertainty, the pre-requisites for an ideal innovation ecosystem in these markets and the need to promote it from a long-term growth perspective.

The innovation award was announced last year by GE as another initiative to encourage innovation in India. The company is committed to develop localized products and solutions in India which bring about a positive impact in the lives of people.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Workshop at JNU

“After Employment, What ?: A Workshop on Challenges Faced, Negotiations Made and Policies Required for Differently Abled Teachers in Institutions of Higher Learning”
Day 1, 9th November, 2012, JNU
Registration: 9.30 a.m.
Inaugural Session:
·         Welcome Address by Prof. Sonajharia Minz , Chief Advisor, Equal Opportunity Office, JNU.
·         Genesis and concept of the workshop: Dr. Navneet Sethi, Associate Professor
·         Inaugural Address by the Chief Guest : Honorable Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Women and Child, Education & Languages, Prof. Kiran Walia
o   Laying out the forums of reference for the workshop: Dr Someswar Sati, Associate Professor
o   Vote of thanks: Shri.Nand Kishore, President , JNU Disabled Persons’ Association
Tea Break: 11 a.m. to 11.30 a.m.

Session 1: 11.30 p.m. to 1 p.m.:

The Social Environment: Challenges and Negotiations : Chair: Sandeep Singh
  C. Nisha Singh: “Alienation and Withdrawal: Impediments in Inclusion ( some in built challenges in negotiations)”
·   Renu Adlakha: “Inclusion in the Academy: Workplace Accommodation and the interpersonal environment”
                                                Lunch Break: 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
Session 2: 2.00 p. m. to 3.30 p.m.:
Advancing Careers , Retaining Biases : Paradoxes at Workplace , Chair: Shri.Pintu Kumar
·         Dr. Satendra Singh: “Disability and Discrimination at Work
·        Sharing Stories & Struggles: Dr. Reeta Namdev; Dr. Shiv Kumar Mishra; Dr.Deepak Sharma; Dr.Satish Kumar; Dr. .S.Maitra
                                      Tea Break: 3.30 p.m. to 4.00 p.m.
Session 3: 4.00 p.m. to 5.30 p.m.
Rights and Research:A Cross Cultural Reference, Chair: Kapil Sabriyal
·    Jagdish Chander: “A comparative perspective on disability rights movement in India and U.S: Experiences of a disabled scholar at the University of Delhi and Syracuse”
·         Hemchandran Khera: “Challenges in doing research in the humanities for the visually impaired: a cross cultural perspective”
Day 2: 10th November 2012, JNU
Session 5: 10.00 a.m. to 11.15 a.m.
Is there a ‘different’ Teacher in the Classroom?, Chair: Sudhanshu Shekhar
·         Dr. Preeti  Prakash Prajapati : "On being a visually impaired teacher: negotiating and overcoming the challenges of classroom management"
·         Ms. Abha Khetarpal :  ''Employing teachers with  disability; a positive step towards Universal Design in Instruction and Learning''
Tea Break: 11.15 a.m. to 11.45 a.m.
Session 6: 11.45 a.m. to 1.30 p.m.
Enabling  State, Disabling  Exclusion: Rethinking ‘Stated?’ Policies  : Chair: Shri. Prasanna Kumar Pincha
Shri.Mohit Jolly: “Law of Disability – Reservation, Sensitization & Penalization
Dr.G.N.Karna: Disability and Human Rights  

                                    Lunch Break: 1.30 p.m. to 2.30 p.m.

Session 7: 2.30 p.m. to 4.00 p.m.

Programme Delivery : The Logistics of Enablement:   Chair: Gopal Parihar
·         Prof.Komal Kamra  : "Inclusion in Work Place: Institutional and Individual Models"
·         Prof.SonajhariaMinz: “Experiences in Enablity”
·         Dr.Bipin Tiwari, OSD , Equal Opportunity Cell, University of Delhi

Tea Break: 4.00 p.m. to 4.30 p.m.

4.30 p.m. to 5.30 p.m.
Valedictory and Summing   up proceeding: Dr Navneet Sethi and Dr Someswar Sati

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

No facilities for PwD at Coimbatore railway station

Coimbatore railway station. Photo credit: Dr Satendra Singh

COIMBATORE, INDIA: It’s hell for the old, invalid, and persons with disabilities to travel through Coimbatore railway station, in the absence of escalators and lifts. Steep stairs stare at those who wish to board a train or leave after alighting from a train, which has been earmarked to be turned into a model railway station for some time.

A lift meant for transporting heavy parcels to the platforms was the only facility for persons with disabilities and elderly people to access the platforms. It’s been non-functional for several months now.

Take the case of Jose N Verghese, a resident of Venkatapuram in Coimbatore, who recently had to take the help of railway officials to lift his father in law, who is paralyzed, to access one of the six platforms at the station. “I frequent Ernakulam with my family quite often. Whenever I have to travel with my father-in-law, we have utilized the lift to carry him to the platform. I expected the lift to be working and I asked other family members to proceed towards the platforms. However only reaching the spot I found the lift closed,” he said. He wonders how the railways could be so callous about the situation and do nothing for the so many months.

M Muthusamy, a disabled person and his wife Rathinam, both residents of Veerapandi in Tirupur, have been visiting Coimbatore Medical College and Hospital for the last two years and find the absence of escalators a pain. “I was disabled after falling down at a construction site. Now I am a heart patient as well. Every month we visit CMCH and each time we are forced to take either stairs or the way on the western side, to reach the platform as climbing the stairs is difficult. However, it is too dangerous to cross the way from the western side as trains keep moving, Rathinam said.

L Velmurughan, member of Tamil Nadu Handicapped Federation Charitable Trust, said the association has raised the difficulties faced by persons with disabilities several times with the railway authorities. There is no separate counter for them, there is no toilet facility and no accessibility to reach the platforms, he said. “More than the disability, it is the lack of concern by the government authorities towards persons with disabilities that hurts the most. This makes them further disabled,” he said.

Sujatha Jayaraj, divisional railway manager, Salem division, said very soon a lift for persons with disabilities would be set up at the railway station. Tenders for the purpose would be floated soon, she said.

Jayaraj said there are two lifts used for the parcel service. One of the lifts would be removed and a lift for the convenience of the aged and persons with disabilities would be constructed soon. The proposal has been already approved, she added.

Source: The Times of India, GAATES

Monday, November 5, 2012

Capital shocker: Post offices lack facilities for disabled

The Statesman. 4 Nov 2012 by Lois Kapila
KOLKATA, 4 NOV: Dr Satendra Singh travels kilometres to post letters, even though there is a post office on the campus of the hospital where he works. “I don't like to tell people, you do this for me,” he said.  

Dr Singh, who had polio which left him disabled, is an assistant professor of physiology at the University College of Medical Sciences and GTB Hospital, Delhi. He said he had sent many letters to the hospital superintendent to tell him that the on-campus post office couldn't be easily accessed by him, but didn't get a reply.  
Starting to think about accessibility elsewhere also, Dr Singh said, “I decided I should know the status of all the post offices in the Capital of the nation.” A series of RTI responses show that many post offices in the Capital lack the facilities that would bring them in line with the country's obligations as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, he said.
The Delhi East Division office's response listed seven of the post offices in their zone that are not accessible, for example. The Central Division said, “as per records no such facilities have been provided” in response to his request for details of “all the standard facilities for barrier-free access made available for the Persons with Disability.”
South Division officials said in their response that 65 of their 67 post offices  are “barrier-free”, but two ~ one at Chittaranjan Park and the other at Kailash Colony ~ are on the first floor “without any facility of lift”.
Dr Singh was also surprised that the only complaint about accessibility in post offices had, in fact, been filed by him.
“It is shocking. But I am not only blaming the post offices but also the community that they are just sitting there.” He said, in his opinion, this silence is a sign of real disability. “If somebody is not raising his voice, he is truly a disabled person.” If post offices were made accessible, it wouldn't only help the disabled, he said, but also senior citizens and young children.
Dr Singh was also concerned about the response from the Office of the Director of the General Post Office to the questions asking about the “accessible status” of the New Delhi General Post Office, and specifically “whether it is accessible/barrier-free or not to Persons with Disabilities (PwD)”.  
“New Delhi GPO is centrally located, it is therefore accessible to all,” the response said. “They thought accessibility meant connectivity,” said Dr Singh.
“A person at a very senior post is not aware of the definition of accessibility, what about lower people...”.

Source: The Statesman
Also read: Times of India coverage on 29th Oct 2012

Friday, November 2, 2012

RTI: Delhi's inaccessible P.O's (SOUTHWEST Div)

This is in continuation of my earlier RTI expose in The Times of India (World’s largest read English daily). As promised, I am giving the details of responses received from India Post, division wise. I asked six basic questions in my RTI and they were:

1.    Please provide me a list of all post offices/ building  under the jurisdiction of Indian Postal department in the city of Delhi along with their accessible status (whether accessible/barrier-free or not) to Persons with Disabilities (PwD).
2.    Please provide me the details as to all the standard facilities for barrier free access made available for the Persons with Disability vide Benefits under Chapter VIII of the Persons with Disabilities Act-1995 in buildings/office mentioned in 1.
3.    Please provide me the details of the postoffices/branches/GPO’s which are on first floor or above and without the provision of lifts
4.    Please provide me the details of the facilities provided for People with Disability (PwD) to access the post offices/branches/GPO which are on first floor and above
5.    Please provide me the list of complaints regarding inaccessible post offices in the region of Delhi.
6.    What action has been taken to remedy the same? Please provide me an action taken report.

There was no response in the mandated period and after my first appeal I received responses from all the divisions. In today’s post I am sharing South West Delhi Division’s response:

South West division’s reply implies that 77% of PO’s are without ramp for wheelchair users. 65% of this number is in government buildings. I also request the readers to kindly verify the correctness of PO’s claimed as ‘barrier-free’ in this RTI response.

Also read:

Thursday, November 1, 2012

India Post: “Paper Tigers” in “ease of access for the disabled”

Minister of Communications & IT while unveiling the new logo of India Post said, “The government is taking steps to make India Post a parcel and logistics giant, in the domestic as well as international sector.” The new logo was termed as a synthesis between service proposition and modernity and the launch was heralded as a landmark with the promise that the new corporate identity will unfold higher level of customer services. That was 4 years ago.
Sitting in my office in one of the premier institutes of India, I try to accomplish majority of work via emails. It’s not that I am against snail mail but I dread at the thought of visiting Post Offices (PO). The reason – I have mobility impairment. Post Polio Residual Paralysis to be precise. With my abilities, I did my MBBS and then MD. I am also a guest speaker for many medical education workshops within Delhi as well as outside it. No mental obstacle came in my way but I can’t fight out physical barriers. The post office in my hospital campus is on the first floor without provision of any lift. The nearby post offices have the same inaccessibility issues. Those who are on ground floor’s are without hand railings or ramps.
Let’s look it in a larger perspective. Persons with disabilities (PwD’s) constitute more than 15% of the world’s population and is  the “world’s largest minority.”For us, the lack of access to essential services (like postal services) remains a source of discrimination and lost opportunities. In March, I filed my first complaint to the local post office to make it accessible to PwD’s. It was followed by reminders, than emails to higher authorities as well as to India Post’s nodal officers. Nothing happened except acknowledgment of receipt of complaints. Being an independent citizen of this country, it’s my human right to visit any public building and to avail all public services. This, along with the continued indifference of India Post prompted me to lock horns directly with them and I finally filed RTI application under the Right To Information Act to know the accessibility status of all post offices in the capital of India, Delhi towards PwD’s.
India Post didn’t disappoint me with their traditional indifferent attitude. Nothing happened in the mandatory one month period where it is legally bound on them to furnish the info. Undeterred, I filed first appeal. Not surprisingly, both my RTI and first appeal, which were sent via speed posts, took more than 7 days to reach Delhi from NCR. (I caution the readers to always track their consignment details as what is promised is not always delivered). The first appeal lead to a flurry of responses from all divisional PO’s in Delhi.
Delhi East division stated, “no post office under this division is with the facility of lift.” Central division replied, “no separate arrangement for the PwD has been made so far to access the PO.” North division reiterates “no facility for barrier free access.” West division blatantly claims that “all are easily accessible & barrier free” despite 3 PO’s on first floor without lift. South West division’s reply implies that 77% of PO’s are without ramp for wheelchair users. 65% of this number is in government buildings.
South division considers Gulmohar Park in South Delhi as ‘barrier free’ but a wheelchair user can only look down in despair at this basement located inaccessible PO. The office of Director, GPO, New Delhi in response to my question, “accessible status to persons with disabilities” writes- “New Delhi GPO is centrally located hence it is therefore accessible for all.” This attitudinal barrier is just a tip of the iceberg. Visually impaired are completely delineated from “disabled” category as I have yet to see a PO with tactile markings or guided assistance and a lift with audio system.

The construct of India Post’s new logo (see image) four years back was inspired by the fact that India Post carries emotion across physical distance. At first glance, it is an envelope and at the next glance, it is a bird in flight, unhindered and unrestricted. The following bold strokes convey free flight. The reality exhibits barriers, hindrances and restriction of our basic humanrights.
It has been said that the red colour in the logo embodies passion, power and commitment. Yellow communicates hope, joy and happiness. Evidence of the lacking of this commitment and joy can be found right across the capital. India Post violates and undermines the dignity of PwD’s which is so manifestly against the spirit of the Constitution of India and the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995.
In the wake of India ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities  (UNCRPD) in October,2007, it has become incumbent on India’s part, under the established and recognized international human right norms,to harmonise all its relevant domestic laws and policies with this international treaty.
Gloria Steinem famously said- “If the shoe doesn’t fit, must we change the foot?”
The PwD’s are not the unfit shoe here. We are not asking something out of reach for us rather we are pleading for universal access. A universal design will allow a senior citizen, a pregnant female, an unsteady toddler as well as persons with disabilities all to access the same public building with dignity and pride. Am I asking for too much?
This was a Guest Editorial post authored by me for where it first appeared.
Dr Satendra Singh, MD, FSS, is an assistant professor and the  Coordinator of Enabling Unit(for students with disabilities), at University College of Medical Sciences, Delhi. He is founder of ‘Infinite Ability’ – a special interest group on disability within Medical Humanities Group of Medical Education Unit. He is 2011 fellow of CMC Ludhiana FAIMER (Foundation for Advancement of International Medical Education Research) fellowship and teaches Physiology to medical stu­dents. He is currently working on incorporating disability studies into medical cur­riculum. He blogs at : ‘The Enablist’

Also read: RTI expose of inaccessible Delhi Post Offices