As a person with a disability, I find myself constantly creating space for myself in the city. The city isn’t made for me. Its roads are often too uneven for my numb legs. There one too many stairs at the nearby ATM. There are queues everywhere and you have to look pleadingly to navigate your way to the front. People are hesitant to make space for you. Some stare at you. Others don’t understand your body. You don’t fit in. You are not the norm.
Every disabled person spends so much time reclaiming space for themselves. Through infrastructure, through language, through access, through work, through words. I do the same and often enough, a battle ensues with the system, with people around me, the society and at times even with myself. My body is tired, emotions drained after each of those little battles.
The true values of a society reside in its people. It is therefore inevitable that for an accessible city to be created, the people of the city should understand access needs. Not only those who are part of governance, policy making or government but everyone who occupies public space. We have a long way to grow in that direction. For the person travelling with me on the metro or bus, or passing me in the streets to recognize my access needs, they need to have some empathy for me. Such empathy is not possible without a basic understanding of disability, its bodily and social manifestations. I can count many instances when one such person around me made my day better. An interdependent society is an empathetic one but that’s not possible unless we understand each other.
As for the basic infrastructure, access needs are often missing from not only small towns and tier two cities but also pockets of big cities which are not affluent enough. Class remains a determining factor in deciding if you can access different corners of your city. But even if you are class privileged, in lack of bodily privileges, you are often not able to take advantage of the choices you have. Travelling alone is still a big hassle for disabled people and it gets worse for women with disabilities.
For a truly accessible city, the city must open its heart and embed the interests of people in the margins at its core. The disabled, the poor, queer and trans persons. Without that philosophy at the core, a more humane, hospitable and accessible city is not possible.
About the Author: Abhishek Anicca is a writer, poet, spoken word performer. He identifies as a person with disability and chronic illness. Abhishek did his graduation from Delhi University and Masters from TISS, Mumbai. He is a researcher who works on disability and gender.
This blog post is part of our campaign #AccessibleCities that aims to raise awareness on the barriers faced by persons with disabilities in their everyday life, and draw the attention of urban planners, architects and policy makers to design inclusive and sustainable cities for all.