Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Polio vaccinators killed in Pakistan

Late last night we received the heart-breaking news that five polio vaccinators had been killed in Karachi, Pakistan
Our sympathy goes out to the victims' families today, but also to the thousands of children who will now miss out on some of the most basic of health services.
The vaccinators, all female, had been working to protect children against polio as part of a three-day vaccination round. It follows a similar incident on Monday, in which a male polio vaccinator, also in Karachi, was killed.
These vaccinators were some of the true heroes of polio eradication. 
We are all in awe of the dedication and bravery of those who risk their own lives to protect children against this devastating disease. The best way to honour their sacrifice is to ensure that all Pakistani children receive basic health services and that polio is finally eradicated from their country, once and for all.

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WHO, UNICEF and the other partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative are committed to supporting the Government of Pakistan and the Pakistani people in their efforts to rid their country of polio - and so are we! This tragedy will not stop eradication efforts and only heightens our resolve to deliver a polio-free Pakistan.

Thank you for standing shoulder to shoulder with the Pakistani people in their commitment to free their country from this disease.

Source: The End of Polio; The Global Poverty Project

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

New Disability Law Intensive Program at Osgoode

York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, which has been a leader in “law in action” for several decades, has approved the creation of a new experiential education program to assist law students in understanding the issues of people with disabilities. 

The Disability Law Intensive Program, the first of its kind in Canada, will provide second and third-year Osgoode Juris Doctor (JD) students with a unique opportunity to learn about a vast scope of law that mostly affects people with disabilities.

In partnership with ARCH Disability Law Centre, a specialty community legal aid clinic dedicated to defending and advancing the equality rights of people with disabilities in Ontario, the students will engage in the practice of disability law through involvement in individual client advocacy and systemic policy-based advocacy.

Starting next September, up to 12 students will participate in the program throughout the 2013-14 academic year. A skills training week will be held in August at ARCH after which the students will begin their clinical placement. Every two weeks throughout the academic year, the students will participate in an academic seminar at Osgoode and they will also be required to complete a major research paper as part of the 15-credit program.

“The Disability Law Intensive Program is a wonderful opportunity for Osgoode, and its students, to make a positive difference within the disability community,” said Osgoode Dean Lorne Sossin. “We are grateful for collaborative partnerships with organizations such as ARCH because they expose our students to law in action.”

The program, which was approved by Osgoode Faculty Council on the International Day of Disabled Persons (December 3, 2012), will be co-directed in 2013-14 by Osgoode Professor Roxanne Mykitiuk, an internationally recognized expert in disability rights, and Marian MacGregor, an adjunct faculty member and director of Osgoode’s Community and Legal Aid Services Program (CLASP). 

MacGregor was awarded a Community Leadership in Justice Fellowship in 2011 from the Law Foundation of Ontario that allowed her to take an eight-month leave of absence from CLASP to help develop the Disability Law Intensive Program.
"The impact of disability, often combined with poverty, can create serious access to justice barriers," said MacGregor, who has practised extensively in the area of poverty law. "This new program will produce lawyers who are better equipped to meet the distinct needs of clients with disabilities, as well as involve students in the systemic change that needs to take place."

Mykitiuk added that the Disability Law Intensive Program, which was designed with student consultation and input, will provide a first-hand opportunity to see “how law applies in concrete ways to people, problems and issues and how the practice of law can be very different than the study of law.” 

The Disability Law Intensive Program is the latest in a growing number of clinical and intensive programs that form part of Osgoode Hall Law School’s celebrated experiential education offerings. 

Osgoode is the first law school in Canada to introduce an experiential education requirement – referred to as a “praxicum” – into its JD curriculum. Commencing with the Class of 2015, which arrived in September 2012, every Osgoode JD student will be exposed to law in action through an experiential course or program as part of their legal education. 

In addition, Osgoode has opened an Office of Experiential Education to serve as a catalyst for the development of new courses, programs and clinics, and provide support to the faculty, students and staff. 

Source: yFile

Enablist Impact: From blog to a prestigious journal

On the eve of ‘World Polio Day’, I wrote a post on this blog World Polio Day - 24th or 28th October? It was an attempt to challenge the erroneous belief that Polio day is celebrated to mark the inventor Jonas Salk’s birthday, which is not true. The websites, media reports and even the WHO and UN sites claimed the same on 24th October which is celebrated as Polio day. I had already done my Sherlock Holmes investigation in the said post.

I then decided to write ‘letter to the editor’ to the ‘Vaccine’ journal. 17 years earlier the journal carried an article on Jonas Salk clearly stating 28 October as his birth date. ‘Vaccine’ is the official journal of: The Edward Jenner Society, The International Society for Vaccines and The Japanese Society for Vaccinology. The prestigious journal has a 5-Year Impact Factor of 3.7. The journal immediately accepted my letter titled ‘It’s time to correct the literature’ and it has been published online now here.

Why then, for years, we are perpetuating the wrong thing by misquoting a legend’s birth, time and again. If Rotary International has faltered here by choosing the wrong day, isn’t it our duty to correct the same? 24th October is not yet an United Nation observance, but even if it has become synonym with polio day can’t we celebrate the whole week as a Polio week to satisfy all parties?

Also read:
Polio survivor's fight to correct date of Salk's b'day

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Declaration on the Rights of Persons with Intellectual Disability

On the eve of 64th Anniversary of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I reproduce declaration on the Rights of Persons with Intellectual Disability given on the website of O/o the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The article has used the word 'mentally retarded' which I don't find appropriate and accordingly replaced with 'Intellectual Disability' in the title. However I shall use the original source below.

Declaration on the Rights of Mentally Retarded Persons

Proclaimed by General Assembly resolution 2856 (XXVI) of 20 December 1971

The General Assembly ,

Mindful of the pledge of the States Members of the United Nations under the Charter to take joint and separate action in co-operation with the Organization to promote higher standards of living, full employment and conditions of economic and social progress and development,

Reaffirming faith in human rights and fundamental freedoms and in the principles of peace, of the dignity and worth of the human person and of social justice proclaimed in the Charter,

Recalling the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants on Human Rights, the Declaration of the Rights of the Child and the standards already set for social progress in the constitutions, conventions, recommendations and resolutions of the International Labour Organisation, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children's Fund and other organizations concerned,

Emphasizing that the Declaration on Social Progress and Development has proclaimed the necessity of protecting the rights and assuring the welfare and rehabilitation of the physically and mentally disadvantaged,

Bearing in mind the necessity of assisting mentally retarded persons to develop their abilities in various fields of activities and of promoting their integration as far as possible in normal life,

Aware that certain countries, at their present stage of development, can devote only limited efforts to this end,

Proclaims this Declaration on the Rights of Mentally Retarded Persons and calls for national and international action to en sure that it will be used as a common basis and frame of reference for the protection of these rights:

1. The mentally retarded person has, to the maximum degree of feasibility, the same rights as other human beings.

2. The mentally retarded person has a right to proper medical care and physical therapy and to such education, training, rehabilitation and guidance as will enable him to develop his ability and maximum potential.

3. The mentally retarded person has a right to economic security and to a decent standard of living. He has a right to perform productive work or to engage in any other meaningful occupation to the fullest possible extent of his capabilities.

4. Whenever possible, the mentally retarded person should live with his own family or with foster parents and participate in different forms of community life. The family with which he lives should receive assistance. If care in an institution becomes necessary, it should be provided in surroundings and other circumstances as close as possible to those of normal life.

5. The mentally retarded person has a right to a qualified guardian when this is required to protect his personal well-being and interests.

6. The mentally retarded person has a right to protection from exploitation, abuse and degrading treatment. If prosecuted for any offence, he shall have a right to due process of law with full recognition being given to his degree of mental responsibility.

7. Whenever mentally retarded persons are unable, because of the severity of their handicap, to exercise all their rights in a meaningful way or it should become necessary to restrict or deny some or all of these rights, the procedure used for that restriction or denial of rights must contain proper legal safeguards against every form of abuse. This procedure must be based on an evaluation of the social capability of the mentally retarded person by qualified experts and must be subject to periodic review and to the right of appeal to higher authorities.

Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons

On the eve of 64th Anniversary of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I reproduce declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons given on the website of O/o the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons

Proclaimed by General Assembly resolution 3447 (XXX) of 9 December 1975

The General Assembly ,

Mindful of the pledge made by Member States, under the Charter of the United Nations to take joint and separate action in co-operation with the Organization to promote higher standards of living, full employment and conditions of economic and social progress and development,

Reaffirming its faith in human rights and fundamental freedoms and in the principles of peace, of the dignity and worth of the human person and of social justice proclaimed in the Charter,

Recalling the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants on Human Rights, the Declaration of the Rights of the Child and the Declaration on the Rights of Mentally Retarded Persons, as well as the standards already set for social progress in the constitutions, conventions, recommendations and resolutions of the International Labour Organisation, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children's Fund and other organizations concerned,

Recalling also Economic and Social Council resolution 1921 (LVIII) of 6 May 1975 on the prevention of disability and the rehabilitation of disabled persons,

Emphasizing that the Declaration on Social Progress and Development has proclaimed the necessity of protecting the rights and assuring the welfare and rehabilitation of the physically and mentally disadvantaged,

Bearing in mind the necessity of preventing physical and mental disabilities and of assisting disabled persons to develop their abilities in the most varied fields of activities and of promoting their integration as far as possible in normal life,

Aware that certain countries, at their present stage of development, can devote only limited efforts to this end,

Proclaims this Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons and calls for national and international action to ensure that it will be used as a common basis and frame of reference for the protection of these rights:

1. The term "disabled person" means any person unable to ensure by himself or herself, wholly or partly, the necessities of a normal individual and/or social life, as a result of deficiency, either congenital or not, in his or her physical or mental capabilities.

2. Disabled persons shall enjoy all the rights set forth in this Declaration. These rights shall be granted to all disabled persons without any exception whatsoever and without distinction or discrimination on the basis of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, state of wealth, birth or any other situation applying either to the disabled person himself or herself or to his or her family.

3. Disabled persons have the inherent right to respect for their human dignity. Disabled persons, whatever the origin, nature and seriousness of their handicaps and disabilities, have the same fundamental rights as their fellow-citizens of the same age, which implies first and foremost the right to enjoy a decent life, as normal and full as possible.

4. Disabled persons have the same civil and political rights as other human beings; paragraph 7 of the Declaration on the Rights of Mentally Retarded Persons applies to any possible limitation or suppression of those rights for mentally disabled persons.

5. Disabled persons are entitled to the measures designed to enable them to become as self-reliant as possible.

6. Disabled persons have the right to medical, psychological and functional treatment, including prosthetic and orthetic appliances, to medical and social rehabilitation, education, vocational training and rehabilitation, aid, counselling, placement services and other services which will enable them to develop their capabilities and skills to the maximum and will hasten the processes of their social integration or reintegration.

7. Disabled persons have the right to economic and social security and to a decent level of living. They have the right, according to their capabilities, to secure and retain employment or to engage in a useful, productive and remunerative occupation and to join trade unions.

8. Disabled persons are entitled to have their special needs taken into consideration at all stages of economic and social planning.

9. Disabled persons have the right to live with their families or with foster parents and to participate in all social, creative or recreational activities. No disabled person shall be subjected, as far as his or her residence is concerned, to differential treatment other than that required by his or her condition or by the improvement which he or she may derive therefrom. If the stay of a disabled person in a specialized establishment is indispensable, the environment and living conditions therein shall be as close as possible to those of the normal life of a person of his or her age.

10. Disabled persons shall be protected against all exploitation, all regulations and all treatment of a discriminatory, abusive or degrading nature.

11. Disabled persons shall be able to avail themselves of qualified legal aid when such aid proves indispensable for the protection of their persons and property. If judicial proceedings are instituted against them, the legal procedure applied shall take their physical and mental condition fully into account.

12. Organizations of disabled persons may be usefully consulted in all matters regarding the rights of disabled persons.

13. Disabled persons, their families and communities shall be fully informed, by all appropriate means, of the rights contained in this Declaration.

Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities

Make Indian Railways Barrier Free [Online petition]

Make Indian Railways Barrier Free
Petition by Shishu Sarothi

India doesn't lack the money, the knowledge, the infrastructure or the power. What it lacks is a VISION. A vision to see that everyone enjoys the RIGHT TO EQUALITY and the most basic right - RIGHT TO LIFE with DIGNITY. Though it is written in our Constitution, it is not engraved in our minds. What our mind speaks is the language of power and the language of 'ignorance is bliss’. Is Disability really an impairment of the body or the impairment of the society to be inclusive of them?

This is the question that 15 physically challenged children from Guwahati had to face when they reached Guwahati Railway Station on 18th November, 2012. They had been invited to perform a play – Buddhuram– at the Jashne Bachpan Festival, 2012 organised by the National School of Drama in New Delhi on 20th November, 2012. Part of the troupe, with sparkles in their eyes and an excitement to showcase their ‘ability’ in the midst of mindless thoughts of disability, reached the station only to have let down that enthusiasm. Guwahati Railway Station (classified as Grade A) did not have the basic facilities to meet the needs of these 15 children who had a tough time reaching, boarding and travelling in Sampark Kranti Express to Delhi.

Shishu Sarothi, a city-based centre for rehabilitation and training for multiple disability, who accompanied the children found that the station was not disabled friendly with no lift or ramp and the train parked at the furthest possible platform. They were taken through the route which is used to tow hand carts with luggage to be loaded onto the trains through unmanned tracks. Even after reaching the platform, the questions kept coming – how does one get into the train? Where can they comfortably keep their wheelchairs? How do they use the bathroom which many of us don’t even dare to open? All this is not only inaccessible but unsafe for them in many ways.

This is not just the story of one group of differently abled individuals or one railway station. It is the same story across the country. While the world is advancing at a fast pace, we urge the government to not slow-down in making every place ACCESSIBLE and DISABLED FRIENDLY. The Railway Ministry ought to take steps at the earliest to make railways disabled friendly and to provide infrastructure so that the differently abled can travel with comfort. It’s high time that ‘Inclusive’ is the word to be used in our vocabulary very often!

Read the full petition here.

Impossible is nothing when it comes to the specially abled

Deccan Herald MetroLife, NewDelhi
Neha Das, Dec 4, 2012

Deccan Herald highliting abilities of disabled
According to UN statistics, over one billion people, or approximately 15 per cent of the world’s population live with some form of disability or physical impairments. And it is not unknown that ‘the world’s largest minority’, often faces discrimination. 

With December 3 being the ‘International Day of Persons with Disabilities’ Metrolife spoke to a few who have made it big in life, past all hurdles.

Working against all odds, Major HPS Ahluwalia is one such example. A mountaineer who suffered a gun-shot wound in his neck during the Indo-Pak war in 1965, left him paralysed below the waist and confined to a wheelchair. But, that did not stop him from achieving his potential.

Apart from authoring several books Maj. Ahl­u­w­a­lia also founded the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre in 1995 and became the Chairman of The Indian Mountai­ne­ering Foundation. Says Ahluwalia in a comment on his website, “People often ask me from where I get my strength. I tell them, from the mountains.

Today a painting of the Himal­a­yas greets every visitor to the centre and inspires everyone to reach higher, to seek the strength within themsel­v­es and to know that they can conquer any fear, surmo­unt any challenge! When your spirit is strong, nothing in the world can stop you.”

Another hero, Dr. Satendra Singh, a polio survivor, is now a Coordinator of Enabling Unit (for students with disabilities), Equal Opportunity Cell at College of Medical Sciences (DU) and GTB Hospital. The founder of ‘Infinite Ability’ – a group on disability, his RTI’s have exposed inaccessible status of India Post and lack of disability policy.

He is also the Chairperson of the Equality and Diversity Committee, Enabling Unit, UCMS constituted for students with disabilities. “India or Delhi is not at all disabled friendly. Even to get a disability certificate, a disabled pers­on has to make rounds of hospitals and offices. We need a sensitisation drive to make people understand that even we are ‘normal’ hu­m­an beings and need to be treated equally. We are not luggage, but part of the society.”

Fighting all odds is Sheela Sharma, an artist from Lucknow. She lost both her arms in a train accident, when she was a child. But she went on to complete her BA in Fine Arts. Now, she paints with the help of her left foot. Talking about India’s role for the development of disabled persons, She­e­la says, “The development are only for the rich and not for us. There are provisions but we never get any help.”

India lacks awareness and understanding of the basic needs of the physically impaired people. Even ATMs’, banks and post offices, which are regularly used avenues are not disabled-friendly.

Joginder Singh Saluja, a wheelchair-bound weightlifter a seven time winner of Mr. India Para Power Lifting inspires many. “I have proved my mettle and that is why the CRPF has chosen me as a health consultant. I am also the head councillor for disabled students in DU. Jis din mera peheli baar mazaak udaya gaya tha, maine usi din thaan liya ki kuch karne ka hai jo aam aadmi naa kar paaye.”

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

IDPD: the struggle continues

So, it's finally over. International Day of Persons with Disabilities came and went. None of the TV channels highlighted the theme for this year-“Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all.’ We are the world’s largest minority and rightly we remained invisible this year too.

Sharing with the readers, my little effort where my RTI expose/interview got published in various print/electronic media on 3rd and 4th December.

We need to continue this fight. Let’s join hands.
Happy to be alive

nothing is impossible for disabled doctor Satendra Singh

The Times of India, 3 Dec 2012 - Few ATMs disabled-friendly

Times of India: few ATMs disabled friendly

Hindustan Times,  3 Dec 2012- Access denied: Delhi not for disabled

Millennium Post: Protest against GTB Hospital

Millennium Post,  4 Dec 2012 - Black armband silent protest against GTB Hospital

The Asian Age, 3 Dec 2012 - 33% of students with learning disability are gifted
The Asian Age article on disability myths

Cross The Hurdle Magazine - TravelAbility: Inaccessible Sim's Park

Dr Satendra Singh's black armband protest

DU announces foreign trip for students with disabilities

New Delhi. Around 100 Delhi University (DU) students with disabilities of will go abroad next year, Vice-Chancellor Dinesh Singh said at the closing ceremony of Badhte Kadam — a nationwide campaign to raise awareness regarding disability — on the university campus on Tuesday.

“It is a historic decision. For the first time, a university will take students with disabilities on such a trip,” Officer on Special Duty of DU Equal Opportunity Cell Bipin Kumar Tiwary said.

Elaborating on the nature of the trip, he said, “It will be an educational trip, through which students will be able to experience the facilities available in foreign universities and make projects on what they observe. They will return to Delhi University and see how similar facilities can be provided here.”

Singh said: “Such a campaign will awaken the nation. I can see some school children here. In the future, I hope they join Delhi University. We will provide them with all facilities possible.”

In the past six months, DU has taken many steps with regard to students with disabilities, such as exemption of tuition and hostel fees and a reduction in mess charges.

“Apart from the 3 per cent reservation in university hostels, we have increased the number of seats for students with disabilities. They do not have to pay tuitionfees. Despite many attempts, some colleges are not following the rules. However, we will ensure that these rules are strictly adhered to,” Singh said.

DU had earlier asked the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation to provide these students free Metro cards with centralised recharging and blocking features.

DU also plans to provide free netbooks with screen-reading software to these students. “The netbooks have been bought and will be given to students in a few days,” Singh said.

DU students with disabilities had also visited the Wagah border and stayed at Army camps as part of Gyananodyaya, an educational train journey, in October.

A first-year Political Science (Honours) student at Gargi College, Gunjan Agarwal, said, “The best part of the trip was the manner in which we were welcomed everywhere. I hope I get to be a part of the foreign trip,” she said.

The event included a silent rendering of the national anthem by school students, a dance performance by children from NGO Muskaan, which works for the differently abled, and a musical by DU students.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A black armband silent protest on IDPD

A black armband silent protest against Medical Superintendent, GTB Hospital, Delhi
Issued on International Day of Persons with Disabilities, 3 December 2012

Dr Satendra Singh's black armband protest on inaccessibility
Protesting for a cause
As the world celebrates International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPwD) today, I as a Coordinator, Enabling Unit (for PwD) & Equal Opportunity Cell; Chairperson, Equality & Diversity Committee; founder, Infinite Ability; and a faculty member at UCMS & GTB Hospital sit quite gloomy while trying to find out reasons to celebrate.
University College of Medical Sciences is a premiere medical institution of Delhi and constituent college of University of Delhi. The associated teaching hospital is GTB Hospital which comes under NCT of Delhi. We are perhaps the only medical institute in India having a dedicated Enabling Unit for persons with disabilities (PwDs) as per UGC guidelines. We are committed to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all PwD, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.
Till now, I have enjoyed support of Principal, UCMS and we have done some good work as well. However, a lot needs to be done and I cannot reciprocate the same support coming from Medical Superintendent (MS) of GTB Hospital. The theme for IDPwD today is “Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all.” We, the PwDs, are world’s largest minority and faces barriers in the form of physical, e-inaccessibility and attitudinal barriers. The legally binding UNCRPD protects our rights since India has ratified the convention in 2007.
Under my chairmanship, I formed an Equality & Diversity Committee consisting of faculty, students and non-teaching members, all being PwDs in line with the mantra ‘Nothing for us, without us.’  My students raised the issue of inaccessible conditions prevailing in GTBH campus and I circulated the minutes to higher authorities for immediate action. That was May 2012 and its 3rd December now. My repeated requests and reminders to MS GTBH have fallen in deaf ears.
The new MCH block at GTBH has a dedicated ramp as well as accessible toilet but it is not yet functional.

The CRPD requires States to ensure “reasonable accommodation” of the rights of PwDs. The library, Conference Hall and MEU is without any lift and it therefore violates the right to education (article 24). Accessibility is essential to enable PwDs to live independently and participate fully in life-it is therefore an end in itself as well as a means to enjoy other rights. The inaccessible Post Office and Canara Bank in the campus defies article 19 and 27 of CRPD. I myself arranged a meeting of AGM, Canara Bank with MS in July where the former showed his willingness to shift the Bank branch on the ground floor. However, I am still awaiting for the minutes of that meeting.
It gives me great pain to know each day my students with disabilities have to encounter herculean task at the hostel which has a steep ramp without hand-railings. PwDs are not objects of charity; we are rather subjects with human rights. Government of India gives Rs50 lakhs under SIPDA to make a building barrier free. The complete apathy from Public Works Department, GTBH failed our proposal. I have requested many times to Hon’ble MS to look into these matters and I am still awaiting a response.
I take great pride in associating with UCMS & GTBH. I feel privileged and proud to be part of this great institution and hospital. I am however deeply distressed about the inaccessible issues prevailing in GTB campus and do not feel that I can start my day today at GTBH without indicating my feelings in a dignified manner on IDPwD.
I cannot in good conscience carry out my work today and ignore the fact that my disabled fraternity is feeling oppressed. It is impossible to ignore that nothing has happened since I started accessibility advocacy in April 2012. Although I am just another professional employee, I do have a conscience and feelings. I believe that if I, as Coordinator of Enabling Unit, remain silent today than it will be taken as a sign that either I do not care or I condone the inaccessible conditions prevailing in GTBH. I believe that it is important to stand up for what is right. Disability does not mean that I cannot stand up for our rights.
The harsh reality
I have struggled to think of an action that would be appropriate and that would not demean the official procedures. I would like to stress that I greatly respect the Hon’ble MS and all the hard work he is doing at GTBH.  However, the amount of communication sent to him is too much for comfort now.
On this special day and under the present circumstances I have decided that I will wear a black armband to mark my silent protest. In doing so I am highlighting the apathy towards PwDs. In doing so I am making a silent plea to Hon’ble MS to protect basic human rights of PwDs and show social accountability. In doing so I pray that my small action may help to expedite the process of making UCMS & GTBH a truly inclusive and accessible campus for one all.

Dr Satendra Singh

Sunday, December 2, 2012

TravelAbility: Inaccessible Sim's Park, Ooty

Crossing the hurdles for the sake of beauty

I love venturing into the Nature and travel places to explore the natural beauty scattered throughout our beautiful country. My love of lakes leads me to Ooty this year and I also climbed the highest point of Ooty with the help of my crutches-my better half in quest of all my adventures. While coming back I stopped at Coonoor. The picturesque Ooty and Coonoor are talukas in the Nilgiris District, Tamil Nadu. No visit in the Nilgiris is complete without a trip to the very famous Sim’s park of Coonoor.

The park is maintained by the Nilgiris district’s Department of Horticulture, Government of Tamil Nadu. Sim’s Park is an unusual park-cum-botanical garden that was developed way back in 1874 by the secretary of the Madras Club Mr. J.D. Sims and Major Murray.

Naturally occurring trees, shrubs and creepers, are in the park as are many unusual species of plants that have been brought in from a variety of places around the world. The park is situated in a deep ravine on the northern side of Coonoor and covers twelve acres of undulating land. This botanical park is located at a height of 1780 meters above mean sea level. The key attraction of the park is the annual fruit and vegetable show held in May.

This park has resulted by the introduction of many rare species including Rudraksh and Cinnamomum. Most of the plants here are exotic and introduced from almost all the countries. There are graceful trees like Araucaria, Quercus, Phoenix, Magnolia, Pine, Turpentine, Tree ferns, Camellia Eucalyptus, Acacia, Pinus, Cinnamomum etc.

There is a glass house housing different ornamental plants and flowers. On the other side of the park rose garden are maintained. This park can take legitimate pride in having secured more than 1000 species of 255 genera’s belonging to 85 families widely covering almost all the different group of the plant kingdom.

The park is a natural garden and divided into 8 major sections (terraces). Each downward terrace have colorful flower beds, lawns and rockeries carefully laid out to give a symmetric look to the park. You will have to walk down the hill lined with exotic and old majestic trees Shola forests are left undisturbed and they add mystery to the park.

Owing to the unique tropical mountain climate, the garden receives ideal climatic conditions. Uniform rain distribution and less temperature variation enable a long flowering season. This tourist place is situated in Coonoor at a height of 1780 meters above mean sea level. Here the maximum temperature goes up to 30 degree Celsius and the minimum falls to 5°C. The average rain fall of this garden is 150 cm. It extends over an area of 12 hectares of undulating land and possesses a number of natural advantages.

Further down one can see the island garden, where boating is also allowed. The Lily ponds add beauty to this serene place and fishes in the pond add extra delight to kids. The botanical garden is partly developed in the Japanese style and is a favorite destination of tourists.
So far so good. Unfortunately I have to pay heavily for this whole description. Not in turns of money but inaccessibility. If you happen to be a person with disability then this whole pleasure becomes a torture. I have physical impairment and use caliper in my right leg. With this I perform most of the daily activities without much problem.

When I entered the Sim’s Park my first experience was that of delight. I climbed down few stairs and it was then I realized that the whole Park is designed on a downhill. The real problem was that subsequent terraces were having stairs but without any side support or hand railing. There was nothing by which you can take support on your either sides. I had two options. One, cursing the authorities and leave the park; and second to fulfill my desire see the whole park albeit with assistance. I opted for the second.

I called my taxi driver and requested him to send my crutches. Braced with my new armory, I explored every corner of the park.The winding footpaths all over the higher slopes of the park may look the most distinctive and picturesque feature of this park but they tease PwD’s as if saying, “You are not welcome.” I also was destined to take up the challenge and despite shedding lot’s of my electrolytes, I conquered the inaccessibility.

As you move down you see great variety and colour which are great feasts to the eyes. But the sight of a disabled or as a matter of fact an elderly struggling at uneven steps, small kids falling due to lack of support, pregnant females giving this park amiss are not hypothetical sights but a harsh reality which the administration needs to address. Why your accessibility should be different as mine? Why can’t we envisage a place which is accessible to ALL- not only to PwD but also to elderly, pregnant females, small kids and even extra-terrestrials?

The theme of the International Day of PwD’s this year is – ‘Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all.’ For people living with disabilities, the situation of inaccessible parks is an illegal denial of our Human Rights. I hope Government of Tamil Nadu will take an access audit of this historical venue at the earliest and come up with an appropriate strategy to make the Sim’s park experience a memory to cherish rather than ruing it as another torture for PwD’s.

(This article was written by me for the inaugural edition of quarterly e-magazine of Cross the Hurdles. Abha Khetarpal launched this magazine on the eve of IDPwD. The complete December 2012 issue is available here.)