Hope in India as Mandatory Access For People with Disability Takes Shape

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New Delhi – In the developed countries, it is taken for granted that there is universal access for the disabled and physically challenged person, but not so in developing countries, so it was hailed as historic when the Medical Council of India (MCI) recently asked all medical institutions in India to be disabled-friendly and submit a compliance report as soon as possible.

Accessibility of health care facilities to persons with disabilities is abysmally low in India because of architectural barriers, lack of ICT facilities and attitudinal barriers. Even medical students, paramedics, non-teaching employees and faculty with disabilities face numerous barriers in medical institutions. This should change if there is early and proper implementation of the MCI-issued directive to the deans and principals of all the medical colleges and institutions in India to promptly submit a compliance report on accessible institutions to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.

Welcoming the directive, disability activist Satendra Singh, a medical specialist at University College of Medical Sciences (UCMS) in Delhi who is himself disabled, said, “This is a significant move, as medical institutions are made more accountable, which is in line with Sec 46 of PWD Act 1995 and article 9 of the International law UNCRPD, which makes it obligatory for India to implement reasonable accommodation. This is not something only for disabled because a universally designed ramp or toilet will help all, be it disabled, elderly person, or pregnant female.”

Singh had relentlessly advocated to the chief commissioner for persons with disabilities (CCPD) to pass directions to MCI to make access audits mandatory in all medical inspections; to include persons with disabilities in all disability matters; and to de-recognize all such colleges which fail accessibility standards. The CCPD, under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, is the highest apex body in India, with the power of a civil court and pan-India jurisdiction.

“To me this should have been done long ago and without anybody fighting for it. What Dr. Satendra Singh is doing is not only praiseworthy and commendable but also a path-breaking move in the establishment of universal design,” said Abha Khetrapal, counselor for the students with disabilities at the University College of Medical Sciences, (UCMS) and GTB Hospital in Delhi.

Singh is the coordinator of the Enabling Unit, which he created under the UGC (University Grants Commission) guidelines for ensuring affirmative actions concerning persons with disabilities. This is the only such body in any medical school in India. Singh also formed an Equality and Diversity Committee, which has student, non-teaching staff and faculty members and all are persons with disabilities, in line with the mantra “Nothing for us, without us.”

Khetrapal, who is a non-institutional expert on the committee, said, “The formation of Equality and Diversity Committee needs to be used as a model not only by the medical colleges, but by all the institutions providing higher education, as separate counselors for students with disabilities may not be found even in many renowned universities of the country. Moreover, all the members of this committee are persons with disabilities and they can represent themselves better than the non-disabled people.”

Khetrapal urged MCI to take urgent action for the speedy implementation of the directive, saying, “I now hope that the new chairman of MCI, Dr. R.K. Srivastava, brings the required and desired changes. Another move that has to be done is to include disability studies as a subject in medical education.”

Mincing no words, Khetrapal who is the founder and president of Cross the Hurdles (www.crossthehurdles.org/ngo), an organization fighting on behalf of the disabled, said, “It is an irony that those who are getting trained to be the health providers of the community have to suffer due to such an inaccessibility. I wonder why does MCI have to be directed by the CCPD office? Why couldn’t Medical Council of India issue such a directive itself? Why do we have to wake up the authorities from such a deep slumber to at least give us what ourrights are?”

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