City planning and development make denizens’ lives easier; but cities cannot be truly ‘smart’ if they fail to include people of all walks of life, say disabilities rights activists and awareness groups. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recommends that people with disabilities have full equality under the law including accessibility and independent living. Similarly, the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 stresses the importance of a barrier-free environment for persons with disabilities. However, city planners and civic bodies have been unable to include them into their plans, they say.
M. Kamaraj, disabilities rights activist based in Tiruchi says that roads are the biggest barriers for persons with disabilities. “Even people with vision and no physical disabilities struggle on crowded city roads nowadays. The visually impaired are the worst hit. Most of them seek help to cross roads and reach their destinations,” he says.An average of at least 500 persons with other disabilities travel across the city on a daily basis, says Mr. Kamaraj. For them, simple solutions like large signboards, pedestrian side-walks could go a long way, he says. “In the Khajamalai area, there are side-walks where a wheelchair user can comfortably wheel himself or herself. Such facilities, if made in all residential areas will encourage people to spend some time outdoors,” he says. The National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) has said that the Smart Cities Mission has not consulted the Accessible India Campaign during the planning stages.Mr. Kamaraj says that Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) would be an excellent installation for persons with disabilities.
An APS is an integrated device that sends an audio signal to indicate that pedestrians can cross the road safely. This device allows visually impaired pedestrians to cross the road at the right time, more quickly and safely.Other possible solutions are detectable warning surfaces or truncated domes, which are textured ground surface indicators which alert people when they reach the edges of pavements or steps; tactile paving using raised-flat-top bars. “Initiatives are needed to be taken in the current stages of the mission so that this exclusion does not come up with a big price both socially and economically in the future. Internationally, there are initiatives being undertaken to develop guidelines, standards and tools for making Smart Cities inclusive for persons with disabilities. These tools should be adopted and implemented,” Mr. Kamaraj says.T. Vijayalakshmi, Headmistress, Government Girls Higher Secondary School for Blind, says that the initiative to make APS would be very helpful for her students.
“The school being residential is a safe space for them. They know how many stairs to climb, and the route to go to class through practice. However, when they go out of school, it is difficult. The facilities in the city must be created factoring in their needs,” she says.Officials in the Corporation say that the facilities coming up are well-inclusive of persons with disabilities. “All infrastructure will be inclusive. Whether under the general fund or under the Smart City Mission, all amenities will be usable for persons with disabilities,” a senior official said.