All government-aided colleges in Pune are disabled-friendly. Unbelievable but true, if the latest data available with the Directorate of Higher Education (DHE) is to be believed.
Joint director of higher education Dr Vijay Narkhede said that of the 167 colleges in Pune, 153 have been found to have either ramps or disabled-friendly toilets. While eight of these colleges have ramps but no toilets for the differently-abled, five have only toilets, Narkhede said, adding that disabled-friendly toilets mean the availability of a western commode and handles.
Surprisingly, not a single college within Pune city limits was found to be inaccessible to disabled students. Asked about the specific parameters to consider a college building as disabled-friendly, Narkhede said that they considered only two-ramps and toilets. However, no figures were available on which colleges had signages in Braille for visually challenged students or lifts.
“We didn’t collect that information. We were checking only for ramps and toilets. There should be a ramp at the entrance of each building, but even if a college has a ramp at its main entrance, it is counted,” Narkhede said.
Meanwhile, disability commissioner Narendra Poyam said that declaring a building as disabled-friendly with barrier-free access isn’t as simple.
“It’s not just toilets and ramps. One needs to see if the doors have enough width for mobility devices like wheelchairs to pass. There should be signages in Braille for visually-challenged students, lifts for the physically-handicapped, and so on. Unfortunately, we do not have the manpower to conduct such audits but we have been taking the help of local authorities for regular reviews whenever possible,” Poyam said.
Even students and teachers contradict the DHE’s claims on disability-friendly colleges. Anita Iyer Narayan, founder and managing director of Ekaansh Trust, which works with people with disabilities, said, “It’s a farce. When they consider people with disabilities, they only look at those with physical disabilities. But what about blind and deaf students? Has anyone looked at their specific needs because no inspections seem to cover that,” she said.
Students said that they don’t expect a lot but a few basic facilities would help. Akash Pawar, a student at a college in Shivaji Nagar, said, “The lower half of my body is paralysed and so climbing the stairs is not feasible. When I joined college, they didn’t have a lift, but now they do. But the problem is that when my classes get over, the lift is not operational as they keep it shut for a few hours. However, many friends in other colleges complain of issues and so it’s not believable that all colleges have disabled-friendly infrastructure,” he said.
Visually-challenged student Megha Patil, who is doing her post-graduation from Fergusson College, pointed out a few things needed for barrier-free access. “Firstly at the entry gate of the college, there should be a Braille signage on location of important buildings and distances. Ideally, there should be lifts or at least handles on staircases, so that we can balance ourselves and judge where the steps end,” she said.