Universal Design: The basis of empowerment of people with disabilities

Globally, there is a concept called Universal Design - a design that is usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of age, ability, or situation.

Written by Javed Abidi | Published: August 23, 2016 8:16:32 am
india disability, disabled in india, Universal Design, disability and Universal Design, Universal Design disabliity, india Universal Design, disabled in india, india disabled, india news, WHO Universal Design, WHO disability According to the World Health Organisation, 15 per cent of the world’s population live with a disability and by definition are predisposed to be poor needing more resources to achieve the same standards as the rest of us, but have lesser ways to earn the same.

We recently made a film, “a day in the life of a wheelchair”.  A very powerful and simple storyline, the short film traces a day in the life of Sapna, a wheelchair user as she tries to make her way around in the city.

She cannot even cross the road, let alone use trains, buses and other public transport.

Can you imagine what persons with disabilities go through on a daily basis? Only a minuscule percentage of this population can be seen in the mainstream. The core reason for this is the basic lack of access. Accessibility not only means access to physical spaces but also means access to information, technology, transport, services, aids and appliances and much more. Access, therefore, is an issue that cuts across disabilities and sectors and forms the very basis of empowerment of people with disabilities.

Globally, there is a concept called Universal Design – a design that is usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of age, ability, or situation.

I have a question for you. Does your organisation design with disabled people in mind?

Something as simple as; Do you print your product labels in Braille as well?  Are your office buses equipped for wheelchairs to get in? Have you ever been with a person with disability to a cinema hall?

I want to take this opportunity and make each one of us responsible to raise our voice, whenever a fellow citizen of India, or citizen of the world, faces a design and access problem.

Look at it this way, at some point in our lives, we have been or will be rendered disabled — a fracture that has left us unable to do daily chores with otherwise regular ease, a broken leg that forced us to use crutches for weeks at a stretch, an accident with the eyes — situations that have left us clueless on how to go about our daily routine. If this is something that baffles you only when you are going through the problem, imagine the challenges faced by people with disabilities in their everyday lives.

A large chunk of the disabled population is poor, which means not only do they not have access to basic education and public transportation, they are also devoid of shelter and proper medical care.

Every country’s poverty index should include disability as an indicator and it is important that the Government of India takes notice of this. According to the World Health Organisation, 15 per cent of the world’s population live with a disability and by definition are predisposed to be poor needing more resources to achieve the same standards as the rest of us, but have lesser ways to earn the same.

Watch: A day in the life of a wheelchair

The issue is an important one because it is hindering the growth of disabled people as a community. Doubtless that the world is an easier space if you are born rich, but the basis of democracy is ‘by all the people, for all the people, of  all the people.’

The point I am trying to make about accessibility and universal design, is that there are many laws that are in favour of people with disabilities, but the law enforcement isn’t strong enough. Universal Design is the very basis for empowerment of persons with disabilities and it is a long battle ahead.

Views expressed by the author are personal

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