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Disabled invitees stranded at Social Justice Ministry’s event

DNIS News Network– Government officials entrusted with the duty of ensuring the rights of people with disabilities seem to lack even the basic sensitivity towards the need for access and equal participation. This came to the fore at a function organised by the office of the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (C.C.P.D.) in the capital on 12 July 2005.

A number of prominent disabled persons, who were invited to the function hosted in Vigyan Bhawan to release a compilation of judgements on disability and some other publications, were rudely shocked to see that the area for refreshments was inaccessible. Former Chairperson of the Rehabilitation Council of India, and founder of Indian Spinal Centre, Major H. P. S. Ahluwalia, and Sarabjit A. Singh, Member of the Principal Bench of the Central Administrative Tribunal were some of the eminent guests among those who could not access the area where tea was being served.

What makes the issue more glaring is that the function was presided over by none other than Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Meira Kumar, who took the lead in enjoying the tea break in an area that was inaccessible to wheelchair users.

Disabled Rights Group (D.R.G.) has strongly condemned the incident and said in a Press Release that: “She not only exposed the problem endemic to her Ministry’s approach towards persons with disabilities but also hurt the feeling of the guests. Neither the Minister nor her office bearers have any understanding or concern for the needs of disabled people and this is not an exception. It is the second such recorded instance during the tenure of Meira Kumar. Earlier, at an awards function, Congress President and United Progressive Alliance Chairperson Sonia Gandhi was forced to step down from the dais to hand over an award to a disabled awardee as the stage was inaccessible.”

D.R.G. has asserted that, “The incident once again underlines the assertion of D.R.G. and the disability sector at large that unless disabled people occupy offices like that of the C.C.P.D. such neglect of the needs of people with disabilities will continue.”

Deputy Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities T. D. Dhariyal did admit that the area where the tea was served was inaccessible. When asked as to why the issue of access for disabled people was not kept in mind by his office while organising the event, he said: “We only served tea and biscuits. These were brought to them. We did not serve sandwiches as the carpet gets dirty.” On further probing on whether the organisers even considered the issue of access at the venue, Dhariyal said: “It’s an old government building, erected a long time ago.”

These non-committal responses speak volumes about utter lack of concern and understanding of problems faced by people with disabilities even by a senior official who is currently the functioning head of one of the apex institutions to safeguard the rights of disabled people.