Govt must focus on mobility of people with disabilities

Updated at 12:56am on September 08, 2018

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Writers attend a discussion at Batighar Bookshop in Dhaka on Friday. — Snigdha Zaman

THE access of people with disabilities to public transports has so far been largely ignored, as New Age reported on Friday. A lack of infrastructural convenience for them is pervasive across modes of transports. Road safety experts and urban planners hold that such an indifferent attitude of the government to the right of people with disabilities is deplorable. The Rights and Protection of Persons with Disabilities Act 2013 provisions for an access of such people to public establishments, which are defined as public and private buildings, parks, stations, ports, terminals and roads. Yet, footpaths along the road continue to remain too high for users of wheelchairs to get onto them. Footpaths are at times so narrow and uneven that wheelchair users find it extremely difficult, even sometimes with the help of able-bodied people, to use them. Besides, allegations have it that traffic personnel do not often seem inclined to help people with disabilities, using wheelchairs, to get onto the footpath or to cross the road, which points to the absence of education of law enforcement personnel in this regard. A similar absence of such facilities at launch terminals also make it almost impossible for people with disabilities to get onto the launches. Buses mostly do not have ramps for wheelchair users to get into them.
The authorities concerned have set up some tactile markings on some footpaths in a small number of areas, but most of them are reported to be on flat surface rather than in relief, which renders them useless for people with visual impairment. A lack of coordination also makes whatever facilities are there useless as the police are reported to have set up bars along the footpath without any consultation with the engineering department of the city corporations. Such bars stop users of wheelchairs from using the footpath. Zero-slope footpath, in a few areas that they are there, often prompt motorcyclists to get onto the footpath, making them not safe for use for people with disabilities. While there has been a serious lack in policy planning in affording facilities to people with disabilities that could ensure their mobility, there have also been failures in law enforcement which further compound the situation. If footpaths are high, people with disabilities cannot use them yet if footpaths have zero slopes or easy ramps, motorcyclists, or cyclists, get onto the footpath when there is congestion on the road. Facilities for people with disabilities are almost absent in both public and private buildings and open spaces such as parks.
In a situation like this, the government must come out of its slumber as regards the rights of people with disabilities and ensure that all modes of transports, the roads and footpaths, open spaces and other public establishments, as defined in the law, have facilities for people with disabilities, of various kinds, to afford such people the facilities that they are legally entitled to. The government must also ensure coordination among its agencies dealing with the issue so that one agency cannot harm the facilities set up by another agency.