This Article is written by Timmaraju Sai Suman A Spina Bifida patient.
I had an opportunity to live in United Kingdom in April 2008 with my family on my father’s deputation. I have a vivid memory of our four-month-long stay, during which we had the experience of a lifetime.
We stayed in Brockworth, Gloucestershire a small town which is a couple of hours away from the city of London. Our initial nervousness of moving into a new country was soon washed away by the warmth of the people there, who were always very supportive. Wherever we went, people would speak to us in Hindi and were always curious to know about our culture and lifestyle.
Our stay in the UK would not have been a smooth one, had it not been for the support we got from the government which provided me with a host of facilities and services for free. I was provided with a car and a lady driver to drop me to school and back to home every day. And in school, I had two lady caretakers who would be with me round-the-clock to take me around in the building and to take care of my requirements while I was in school. Diapers would also be provided at 3-month intervals.
The infrastructure in the UK is extremely wheelchair-friendly. The roads are smooth everywhere, and the public transport had ramps and doors wide enough for my wheelchair to enter. And the traffic on the roads, no matter how heavy, would come to a halt for me at the push of a button so that I could cross the roads easily. People on wheel chair are always allowed free travel in the public transports and arrangements to access the train/bus are all made hassle-free manner. The wheelchairs are always allowed to enter first into public transport, and the drivers and co-passengers would wait patiently until they entered. Even in renowned places like the London Eye and Madame Tussauds museum, wheel chairs are the first privileged ones to enter.
Parking for our private vehicle was free at public places for a time span of our choice. Not only that – at places like shopping malls and supermarkets, we were always allotted parking in slots that were the closest to the entrances of those buildings. I have travelled quite a number of places since then but will never forget the warmth of this wonderful place and its people, which is why I wish to go back there and settle in future.
India can learn a lot of things from the UK when it comes to taking personal care of wheelchair-bound people. There needs to be a lot more involvement from the government’s side for the betterment of their lives.
The problem cannot be solved until we acknowledge its existence. The government needs to first assess the number of disabled people living in India correctly and then start thinking about solving their problems. To begin with government infrastructure, public transport and places should be made accessible. Buildings should not be given permissions unless they have free access to the wheelchairs. No business or establishment should work without proper access. Necessary legal framework should be established on priority.
Not all families can afford raising physically disabled children. The government must take it upon itself to provide physically disabled children from financially backward families with a better life – it must bear all their expenses, right from treatment and medication to education and employment.
Public transports now have exclusive compartments for wheelchair users, but they are always occupied by non-disabled people. This should stop. Its high time people show some consideration towards wheelchair users and let them avail this facility, as they too have the right to a smooth ride to their destinations. Also ramps should be made a mandatory part of public transport.
Pavements are meant to be used by pedestrians, bicycle, pushchair and wheelchair users, but in India they are occupied by hawkers. The government needs to allot an entire stretch of road to wheelchair users for them to be able to ride on their wheelchairs easily.
Educational institutions should allot caretakers for wheelchair-bound students to take care of their needs round-the-clock. Young disabled girls would not be comfortable to share their problems with everyone – a female attendant must be allotted specially for them at their schools who they can freely share their issues with.
In this age of internet and social media, solution to any problem is available at the click of a button. Websites and online forums should be created with solutions to issues of the disabled, and they also must be taught how to use them to their benefit.
Over and above that the mind-set of our citizens must change. Empathy towards needy and willingness to help the disabled should be developed. Service motto is the only solution to making India wheelchair-friendly.
Timmaraju Sai Suman
A Spina Bifida patient