Saturday, February 14, 2015

People with disabilities: The missing voices in India's HIV/AIDS response

The open access, peer reviewed online journal 'Research & Humanities in Medical Education' (RHiME) published my review article on people with disabilities and India's HIV response. Here's the abstract:

India has the third largest number of people living with HIV in the world. The UNAIDS Gap report has identified twelve risk groups that are especially vulnerable and have been left behind from the national AIDS response. Of these twelve, one is persons with disabilities. Disability is both a public health issue and a human rights issue; persons with disabilities are the world’s largest minority. Low awareness, sexual abuse, and lack of access to health services are the major reasons for people with disabilities being vulnerable. While the gap report is a landmark report, in that it compartmentalizes the risk groups, disability cannot be looked at in isolation. Since any of the other risk groups may include persons with disabilities, the issue is a complex one meriting greater attention. The National AIDS Control Organization has completely ignored this group of persons. To efficiently close the gap, an integrated and disability-inclusive HIV response is needed so that people with different types of disabilities, their caretakers, healthcare professionals and society are empowered to fight the collective battle against HIV/AIDS.

Full article can be read at the following link:

Singh S. India’s AIDS response: the missing voices of persons with disabilities. RHiME [Internet]. 2015 Jan 12 [cited 2015 Feb 14];1:[about 8p.].

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Election Day: Disabled get cold shoulder, Inaccessible polling booths

Despite informing Chief Electoral Office, Delhi in advance (Economic Times), despite submitting them list of inaccessible booths (PTI), despite raising the matter of inadequate wheelchairs (TOI), despite complaining to ECI and CEO, despite a notice from Disability Commissioner (TOI), the D-day in Delhi Elections 2015 turned out to be a bad experience for voters with disabilities and elderly.

Delhi election 2015: Little aid as disabled struggle to voteTimes of India, 8 Feb 2015.

NEW DELHI: Persons with disabilities and the elderly had a difficult time voting on Saturday. The office of the chief electoral officer had failed them. The number of wheelchairs available was way fewer than necessary and ramps were either too steep or just not there.

In the April 2014 general elections, the Capital's election office had done better. In fact, the ministry of social justice and empowerment had lauded the "Delhi model" for making polling stations accessible and urged other states to emulate the Delhi's example.

This time around too, EC had directed the chief electoral officer (CEO) to take "necessary measures" to make voting easy for people with disabilities. Yet, the number of wheelchairs at polling stations was cut from 2,600 to 400. Despite media reports on accessibility problems in booths, no action was taken to improve facilities.
The CEO, post the media reports and after the Commissioner of Disabilities intervened hours ahead of Saturday's vote, assured there would be an additional 300 wheelchairs. But most polling stations TOI visited did not have one.

Sample this. Booths 5, 6, 7 and 8 of Chandni Chowk; 155, 156 and 157 Lady Reading Health School and 139, 149 and 154 at MCD Primary School, Bara Hindu Rao of Sadar Bazar; 67, 68, 69, 71 and 72 at Nigam Prathamik Vidyalaya, Malikpur of Model Town; 105, 106, 132 and 133 of Shalimar Bagh and 26, 27, 28 and 29 at Green Park had no wheelchairs.

Kamlesh Baberwal, a polio-affected voter at booth 75 in Ambedkar Nagar complained: "There was a wheelchair last year. So, I came on my scooty this time. I wasn't allowed to take my scooty inside and there was no wheelchair. I can't walk and had to wait two hours before my family got my wheelchair. Last year, we were asked to submit a form allowing us to ask for wheelchairs." Many polling stations in Mundka, Dayalpur in Karawal Nagar, most polling stations in GK, C R Park, Alaknanda, Green Park, and many in Northeast had no wheelchairs.

At Rohini Sector 14, police allowed the severely-disabled or aged to go in with their cars. "They had said they'll have wheelchairs but there isn't any," a policeman said.

Om Prakash Hasija, 80, and his wife were first asked to get out of their car in front of the booth, then asked to drive in. Thankfully, most booths were on the ground floor. Polling officials at Mangolpuri Block A claimed they had wheelchairs and four voters used them. But they weren't anywhere in sight.

NEW DELHI: Model Polling stations in the city failed to impress voters. With basic amenities like wheelchairs for the disabled and elderly and clean toilets missing, voters wondered "what was model about them."

The model booth in Laxmi Nagar near V3S Mall had a few chairs and a green carpet was laid out. At Trilokpuri all the chairs were occupied by cops leaving the voters standing. "Is decoration with flowers, a carpet and a few chairs what a model polling station is about?" asked Vikas Yadav, a voter.

Polling stations in north Delhi too did not have adequate seating arrangements as elderly and disabled voters stood in queues outside the booths. "I cannot stand for a long time. Why have they rolled out a carpet which is not required," said 72-year-old Shashi Devi, who had come with her daughter.

Many centres inaccessible to differently-abled (The Hindu, 8 Feb '15)

It was mixed reaction from the differently-abled voters across the city about the arrangements made by the Election Commission to make polling centres more accessible to them.

While several of them claimed that the ramps, wheelchairs and training provided to the election officials helped them cast their vote without any hassle, others, especially at polling centres in the rural belt, were found struggling for want of support.

Nearly 700 wheelchairs were brought in to facilitate glitch-free voting. Disability rights activist Dr. Satendra Singh of University College of Medical Sciences, Delhi University, said: “Wheelchairs are provided for both the elderly and those with disabilities. We had provided a list of eleven polling booths to the Election Commission where special aid needed to be given. We are happy to note that a majority of voters with disabilities had no problem today.”

A research student at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Nripendra Pathak (with disability on the right hand and leg), said he had no problem casting his vote. “The polling booths were accessible. And even my friend who is wheelchair user was given prompt help.”

But facilities for the differently-abled and the elderly were not up to the mark in populous resettlement colonies and predominantly semi-urban localities.

For instance, there was just one wheelchair available at the SDMC Nigam Pratibha Co-Ed Primary School in Tilak Vihar. Here, 92-year-old Jodh Singh complained he had to wait for an hour and a half to exercise his franchise. “First I had to wait near the gate for the wheelchair to be free, then it took me half an hour to cast my vote and finally for the ride back to the gate,” he said.

Gurcharan Kaur, 62, a cancer patient who skipped her morning treatment to vote, was neither allowed to wear a breathing device nor given preference at the polling station.

Navneet Sethi, a wheelchair user, could not cast her vote as the polling booth in Greenfield School, Safdarjung Enclave, had five stairs. Her car was not even allowed to park close to the booth.

Meanwhile, Mohammad Islam and his friend Harkesh Yadav, both of whom are visually-challenged, hired a goods-carrying rickshaw to reach a polling booth in Gopalpur, Najafgarh. “Despite our physical condition, the police didn’t allow us to be dropped near the gate,” complained Islam. He added: “Because of the absence of a separate queue for people like us, we had to keep asking others for assistance to walk us to the polling booth and then back outside.”

Disabled persons turn out in strength to cast vote (ET)

NEW DELHI: As Delhi voters made a beeline for polling stations today, differently-abled people, too, turned out in large numbers to exercise their franchise with Election Commission making special efforts to ensure that there were adequate facilities for them.
While wheelchairs and ramps at most of the polling booths aided these voters, there were, however, a few places where they complained of having inadequate facilities.
60-year-old Ram Lal, who came on a wheelchair escorted by a youth, flaunted his inked finger after casting his ballot at a polling station in Okhla.
"I want a party to come to power which increases facilities for disabled people like us," said Lal, whose lower body was paralysed 38 years back in an accident.
Said 87-year old Mohammed Taquil, who relies on a walking stick for moving about, "Arrangements at polling stations are quite good. I was exempted from standing in the queue and was also escorted to the booth by the officials."
However, one voter complained that she had to wait for a wheelchair to be brought in from another polling booth after she had asked for one at a polling booth in Shalimar Bagh.
Election Commission had arranged for around 400 wheelchairs for disabled persons while volunteers, too, were deployed at voter assistance booths to escort them.
Wheelchair-bound 82-year-old Jitender Singh was seen taking a selfie as he came out of a polling booth in the Vikaspuri area.
"Why should the youngsters have all the fun! Voting is not only trendy but very important to maintain the sanctity of our democratic system," Singh said.

Poorly equipped, model booths fail to impress voters (TOI)

NEW DELHI: Model Polling stations in the city failed to impress voters. With basic amenities like wheelchairs for the disabled and elderly and clean toilets missing, voters wondered "what was model about them."

The model booth in Laxmi Nagar near V3S Mall had a few chairs and a green carpet was laid out. At Trilokpuri all the chairs were occupied by cops leaving the voters standing. "Is decoration with flowers, a carpet and a few chairs what a model polling station is about?" asked Vikas Yadav, a voter.

Polling stations in north Delhi too did not have adequate seating arrangements as elderly and disabled voters stood in queues outside the booths. "I cannot stand for a long time. Why have they rolled out a carpet which is not required," said 72-year-old Shashi Devi, who had come with her daughter.

At the polling station in BB Block Shalimar Bagh, disabled voters were forced to bring wheelchairs from their homes. When asked about the lack of facilities, sector officer AK Das said, "The wheelchair was needed at another polling booth. While there are three booths in Shalimar Bagh, only two wheelchairs were provided."

The situation was similar at Krishna Nagar from where BJP's chief ministerial candidate Kiran Bedi is contesting the elections. "It was literally challenging for us to vote," said a middle-aged voter suffering from arthritis.

However, model polling stations in south, west and central Delhi had good arrangements in place with dedicated waiting lounges, wheelchairs and freshly-painted interiors and exteriors.

The concept of a model polling station was first introduced in the December 2013 assembly polls.

Monday, February 9, 2015

IMPACT: Disability Commissioner takes the 'inadequate wheelchairs' matter with EC

It was earlier highlighted in the national daily that polling booths do not have enough wheelchairs this time (Times of India,  6 Feb 2015). I complained personally to both Election Commission of India as well as Commissioner, Disabilities (GNCTD). The later responded on 6th Feb as:

Dear Dr.Singh
The matter has been taken up with Government of India and the Chief Electoral Officer for doing the needful.
Commissioner (Disabilities)
Subsequently, notice was sent to Office of Chief Electoral Office and it was learnt that poll body will be providing 300 more wheelchairs. Times of India covered the news next day.

NEW DELHI: The chief electoral officer, Delhi, has decided to arrange for 300 more wheelchairs at polling stations to help elderly and voters with disabilities.

There will also be hydraulic lifts at four polling stations in southwest Delhi. The decision came after TOI reported that the number of wheelchairs provided to polling booths has been reduced to 400 from 2,600 in the general elections in 2014.

Following request for suo motu cognizance of the matter based on the TOI report confirming that voters with disabilities and elderly might face difficulty at polling booths on Saturday, the commissioner for disabilities, who has quasi-judicial powers, took up the matter with the government of India and CEO.
"We are arranging for 300 additional wheelchairs. There will also be hydraulic lifts in four polling stations in southwest district," CEO Chandra Bhushan Kumar said. The extra wheelchairs will be deployed in group polling stations and can be immediately moved out in case of need, Rajesh Goyal, joint chief electoral officer, said.

However, activists feel the number is still inadequate and are questioning how the CEO and ministry of social justice and empowerment managed to provide many more wheelchairs in April 2015 "at a short notice yet are unable to do so this time".

"Since adequate wheelchairs are not being arranged for, the CEO should have notified the voters that they can carry their own wheelchairs instead of keeping them in the dark. Many elderly and disabled voters will turn up at the polling stations expecting wheelchair facilities based on past experience. A total of 700 wheelchairs are not even 50% of what is needed. The ministry of social justice and empowerment should have taken care of this as it is a national duty," Dr Satendra Singh of University College of Medical Sciences, Delhi University, said.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Disability issues in manifestos of political parties for Delhi Poll

AAP bats for disabled, others drop the ball

NEW DELHI: There are 2,34,882 disabled people in Delhi according to the 2011 census. And, while there is no exact data on the number of voters in this category, the count of people with disabilities in Delhi above the age of 20 years is 1,74,219.

Yet barring AAP, the other major political parties—BJP and Congress—have been silent about disability in their election manifestos.

According to professor of physiology at University College of Medical Sciences, Delhi University, Dr Satendra Singh, with the political parties engaged in mudslinging, issues of real importance are hardly discussed ahead of polls. "No wonder, no one talked about disability issues," he said.

"In its vision document, BJP is silent on the concerns of persons with disabilities. We were also hurt by the party staying mum when the Goa chief minister called us 'God's mistake'. The central government is busy restructuring and renaming its ministries, creating a department of disability affairs, but giving a long rope to those making such disgraceful comments," said Singh, who himself suffers from disability.

The Congress manifesto, too, has no mention of the word disability. This is the same party which was in a hurry to pass the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities Bill via ordinance route. "Where has that passion gone now?" Singh said.

"Disability is not a priority for political parties because they don't see disabled people as a potential vote bank and think disability is only a medical problem. Their idea is that if you offer Braille or a hearing aid to a disabled person the problem is solved. They are unable to imagine it is a social, political and cultural problem as much as a physical and mental issue. Moreover, there is no active presence of disabled people in the parties. Those present don't like to talk of disability politics," explains Hemachandran Karah, assistant professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

The AAP manifesto, however, has a four-point action plan for the disabled—expansion of the definition of disability and implementation of 3% reservation in jobs and educational institutions, ensuring education for children with disabilities, establishing a special government body to protect the rights of people with disabilities and making public places, educational institutions and recreational areas accessible.

Disabled fret as only 400 wheelchairs for the Delhi polls as against last year's 2600

Disabled fret as only 400 wheelchairs for the polls
TIMES OF INDIA, 6th Feb 2015, Page 6
This election may not be a hassle-free affair for elderly and disabled voters. The number of wheelchairs provided to polling booths has been reduced to 400 from 2,600 in the general elections, the Election Commission's letter to chief electoral officer asking him to repeat “all measures taken in the past“ notwithstanding.

Worried activists are wondering why enough wheelchairs cannot be arranged seeing as the capital witnessed barrier free elections for the very first time in 2014 with the ministry of social justice and empowerment actually praising the `Delhi model'.

A letter dated February 1 from the office of the chief electoral officer to deputy electoral officers in the nine election districts said, “It is informed that only about 400 wheelchairs are being supplied by Artificial Limbs Manufacturing Corporation of India .“ The chief electoral office decided it will provide one wheelchair each in 70 model polling stations and one each at locations where there are over 10 polling stations as well as in critical areas.

As a last-ditch effort, Dr Satendra Singh of University College of Medical Sciences, Delhi University, made a representation to the commissioner for disabilities to use quasi-judicial powers to resolve the problem.

“The last election, both people with disabilities as well as elderly citizens had a memorable experience thanks to availability of enough wheelchairs. Supreme Court guidelines clearly list out steps to enfranchise voters with disabilities and this should not be seen as a charitable effort. When 2,600 wheelchairs have been provided in the past, why can't the same be done on February 7?

When Stephen Hawking visited last time, the ministry of social justice and empowerment and Archeological Survey of India constructed temporary wooden ramps in one night to make monuments in Delhi accessible,“ Singh said.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

List of inaccessible polling booths submitted to CEO Delhi

Delhi elections 2015: EC takes steps to make polling booths accessible to disabled
PTI. 1 Feb 2015
NEW DELHI: Ahead of the February 7 election, the Election Commission has been submitted a list of "troubled polling booths" in Delhi where differently-abled persons could face difficulties.

Deputy Chief Electoral officer AK Srivastava had called a meeting on January 27 with all the stakeholders to facilitate the differently-abled voters to exercise their franchise without any hassle during the upcoming assembly election.

Satendra Singh, RTI activist and professor of physiology at the University College of Medical Sciences who was present at the meeting, submitted a list of 11 polling booths which had proved trouble makers for voters with disability in the past.

In the presence of all three commissioners of civic bodies, measures taken during the last year's Lok Sabha election to facilitate such voters were reviewed and it was decided to repeat the same as they had proved successful.

Singh said he asked the government agencies such as Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJE), Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and Institute of Physically Handicapped (IPH) and Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi to provide wheelchairs at the polling booths.

"I have given a list of troubled polling booths which include 11 names from different parts of the capital so that steps can be taken to make them assessable for such voters who often prefer not to step out if such problems persist," said Singh
"This exercise to facilitate voters with disability will certainly raise the participation," Singh added.

During the Lok Sabha polls, Singh said almost 2,600 wheelchairs were provided by MSJE and DDA. This time, IPH is expected to provide 400 wheelchairs.
"I urge all the government bodies including MSJE and DDA to ensure that wheelchairs are in good numbers at the polling booths as measures taken during Lok Sabha elections were appreciated by almost all quarters," Singh said, adding that he would provide more names of inaccessible polling booths to CEO office in coming days.
The polling booths identified so far include Haveli Azam Khan, Chandni Chowk, booth no.56 at JNU, Mahroli Assembly, booth number A-28 in Subhash Nagar,block 26 Community Centre at West Patel Nagar, booths number 11, 12, 13, 14 in Rajokri, booth at SC/ST training centre, Dilshad Garden among others.

Singh said availability of wheelchairs at polling booths should be "non-negotiable".
"Thanks to Artificial Limbs Manufacturing Corporation, last time here were around 2600 wheelchairs which helped not only voters with disabilities but also elderly citizens. Availability of wheelchairs at polling booths should be non-negotiable. Polling day is a day to celebrate Indian democracy and we all should contribute," said Singh.

He said, last time there was a provision of prior registration to know the number of voters with disabilities.
"This approach should continue or any other suitable method should be adopted by which we can know the exact number of voters with disabilities," Singh added.

Recalling physicist Stephen Hawking's visit to India and his wish to see monuments in Delhi, he said, "in one night, all these places were made accessible with temporary wooden ramps".

"When we can do this for our guests why can't we do it for our own voters with disabilities," he said.
Source: PTI news on Economic Times

Correction: I could not attend the meeting on 27th Jan at O/o CEO because of prior commitment at Chennai. I submitted the list of inaccessible booths later via email.