Indra Maya Gurung and Inclusion in Nepal

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From the Kathmandu Times:

Constituent Assembly member Indra Maya Gurung's struggles with the Parliament aren't just restricted to lawmaking. Paralysed from the waist-below because of polio, she uses a wheelchair to commute to her sessions at the Singhadurdar premises. But the absence of  disabled-friendly infrastructure means that she is helpless at times.

Take for instance, the times when she has to attend committee meetings, which are usually held on the fourth floor of the Parliament. She is physically carried up to the meetings,  with an aide to accompany her at all times. Though a ramp exists to enter the secretariat building, there are otherwise no disabled-friendly facilities--lifts, wide hallways or toilets. 

Gurung's struggles with infrastructure don't end with the Parliament. She speaks of the time when Rastriya Banijya Bank refused to provide her an ATM card because "there were no provisions by the bank to provide ATM cards to people with disability". She also speaks of how public vehicles refuse to stop for her when she flags them down, and how she cannot go to the supermarket because it has no facilities for wheelchairs, and has to send others to shop for her.

Gurung's stature as a Parliamentarian means that she is one of the few who have at least some facilities or aides to help her get about. For others living with disabilities, daily life is a struggle, as very few structures have been built to cater to their needs. Even more appalling is the fact so few understand the necessity of such infrastructure. "People are kind to me, but they don't look at me equally," says Gurung, "And the lack of these facilities just shows we are not equal to the rest."

Not surprisingly, a recent study by the National Federation of Disabled Nepal came to the conclusion that most public buildings--corporate or government--do not have provisions for disabled-friendly infrastructure. Even in buildings having such infrastructure--the secretariat at Singhadurbar and the Supreme Court for instance--facilities were restricted to the ground floor. 

It is not that Nepal lacks a code of infrastructure for appropriate construction. Raju Man Manandhar, senior divisional engineer at the Department of Urban Development and Building Construction, says, "Though the government introduced a building code nearly three to four years ago with a provision that every building should be disabled-friendly, there has been a clear lack of implementation." The code also mentions that construction of new buildings would be permitted only if they were disabled-friendly. 

Across the world, there are specific regulations that make it imperative for public structures to be disabled-friendly, such as buses and trams with low floors, reserved parking lots, pavement ramps, and lifts and halls broad enough to fit a wheelchair. These initiatives are not available only in the developed world. In New Delhi, for example, public buses and the metro transport system are extremely disabled-friendly, with ramps, lifts, as well as toilets. As much as the law, it is ultimately about whether we care.  

It doesn't take much to make a building or a facility disabled-friendly. Simple solutions can be integrated in the blueprints at the time of construction, such as  doors and corridors that are wide enough for wheelchairs, and fitting ramps beside staircases. 

Despite being a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which ensures the rights of persons with disabilities, Nepal is yet to 

ratify it.

But Manandhar has noticed a few positive changes. Every government hospital in Kathmandu has been facilitated with lifts and ramps and private hospitals too have taken the initiative to provide better access for disabled patients. These initiatives are sadly restricted to transport only; facilities for the visually-disabled are not available anywhere. 

Gurung says she will fight for disabled-friendly infrastructure to be included as a fundamental right in the new Constitution, with immediate "ratification of the UN convention". Till then, she will continue to not have an ATM card, go to the theatres, and attend her meetings, without feeling a little less than dignified.

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