"Specialness" & Scarcity: The Paternalism Syndrome

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New civil rights legislation is having its positive effect in the lives of individual citizens with disabilities in many countries. The UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilties will continue the momentum.

There is a built-in limiting factor that will increasingly hamper such efforts. To their surprise those who are most likely to be the obstacle are those who have been involved in implementing the concrete changes mandated by the legislation.

Below is an article on accessibility features that have been added to Egmore railroad station in Chennai, India. In all retrofit situations such attempts at inclusion are marked out as "special" (stigamatized) if simply through the fact that they are obviously not part of the original design -- that the original design did not apply the seven principles of Universal Design.

What then often happens is a mentality of "protecting" the scarce resource (in ths case a ramp) from interlopers (in this case motorcyclists.

Instead of correctly seeing the widespread use of the human-centered correction to the previous poor design as a sign of success the paternal attitude of reserving a scarce resource for "those people" sets it. Rather than design for all resulting in full social participation by all what results is "special protection for the few." Note the comment by the engineer below who states:

There is also a special washroom with railings and low level sinks and commodes that is open to disabled people on request. "We do not want others to use it. The sad thing is that even the ramps are being used more by motorcyclists," said an official.

Who is this "we" that will not share what is good -- what is clearly better, in fact -- with citizens simply because they are not disabled? Yes, there are a limited number of ramps but the right question to ask is not "How do we protect the scarcity of proper accommodation?" but how do we eliminate the scarcity of proper accmmodation?

Who is the "we" that decides that inaccessibility will remain the norm so that "special" - and therefore scarce - accommodation needs a social caste who derives its sense of wellbeing from protecting that scarcity and "thise people" who depend on it? Cartainly, regardless of their disability status, they are not persons who uderstand the core values of disability culture: inclusion and interdependence.

CHENNAI, Jun 21: The Egmore railway station is in the process of becoming more disabled–friendly with the construction of a series of new ramps with supporting railings. "Earlier the ramps would be in some corner. Now we are putting them at every entrance," said a senior railway official.

Less than a year after the Madras High Court issued guidelines for the railways to ensure an accessible environment for the disabled, the station is working towards this end. According to Southern Railway officials, additional funds were sanctioned in the 2007–08 railway budget.

"Last year we started work with our own funds. This year we can spend up to Rs. 1 lakh for each work; for example just for the ramps. There are no longer any constraints on funds and the Chennai Division can spend Rs. 22 crore for passenger amenities alone," the official said.

Within the last three months, two new ramps at each entrance, a separate parking lot and a separate counter for the physically challenged have been set up at Egmore. There is also a special washroom with railings and low level sinks and commodes that is open to disabled people on request. "We do not want others to use it. The sad thing is that even the ramps are being used more by motorcyclists," said an official.

"Just putting in ramps is not enough," pointed out Meenakshi. B, assistant coordinator of the Disability Legislation Unit of Vidhya Sagar, a non–profit organisation committed to the rights of disabled persons. "Disabled persons continue to face several hardships when using public transport," she said.

Vidhya Sagar was at the forefront of bringing about the guidelines following a PIL filed by the coordinator of the Disability Legislation Unit, Rajeev Rajan.

Source: www.hindu.com/2007/06/21/stories/2007062157330100.htm

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