Volume 9 Issue 10 - August 01, 2012

20 years of disability rights movement: R.G.F.’s scheme on Motorised Tri-Wheelers

Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, formed in the memory of visionary Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, was one of the very first foundations to have taken up disability as part of their work. This was at a time when no one knew or understood disability, much less the current human rights approach that we hear about. This year marks 2 decades of its very popular Motorised Tri-Wheeler Scheme. Dorodi Sharma of D.N.I.S. takes a look at how it has impacted the lives of people with disabilities, directly and indirectly, and the future course of action that the Foundation is contemplating.

In the years before 90s, disability rights were not even a dot on the radar screen of the policy makers. At that time, it was then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who included this marginalised section in his vision of the country in the 21st century. After his tragic and untimely death, the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation (R.G.F.) continued this vision and included disability in its core areas of work. The Disability Unit of R.G.F. was thus set up. It was R.G.F. which paved the way for many pathbreaking achievements that the disability movement was to see in the years leading from then. Notable among them was the first disability rights law of the country.

Another scheme that R.G.F. pioneered and sadly, which till today no one else has replicated is the scheme of distributing Motorised Tri-Wheelers to people with disabilities. This was the first scheme of its kind when it was started in 1992 and till today, 20 years after, it continues to be the only scheme of its kind in the entire country.

This scheme started at a time when mobility, which is one of the fundamental requirements for independence, was not given much thought. The importance of being able to move around freely without depending on inaccessible transport was not fully understood. Those who could afford hired an attendant to ferry one around the campus on a wheelchair or a hand operated tricycle. Where the distance was very big, especially in the case of those employed or self-employed, one really had almost no choice.

Interestingly, there are many schemes under which hand driven tricycles are given away, no one has bothered not the Government and not even N.G.O.s, to modernise their schemes and start giving Motorised Tri-Wheelers instead.

Being the only such scheme in the country, one can imagine the huge number of applications that R.G.F. receives. There are after all only that many Tri-Wheelers that can be given out by the Foundation. There is a strict selection process and importance is given to students, self-employed young disabled people and to persons with disabilities from remote areas of the country, especially girls and women with disabilities.

R.G.F. recently undertook an impact assessment study of the scheme which underlined how this was not just about giving a vehicle but had a ripple effect on the lives of those it touched.

Till September 2011, this scheme has directly benefitted 1500 persons with disabilities. The study found that people who have been part of the scheme were also supporting other members of their families. After receiving the vehicle, 59 percent of the respondents in the study have independently started attending community events, 25 percent have been able to participate in and support community affairs and 54 percent have completed their education more effectively or in better ways.

Most of the respondents felt that the vehicle had changed their lives. Around 12 percent of the respondents felt that they had completed their education only because of the vehicle, around 10 percent were able to get a part-time job to support their education and 13 percent got the opportunity to enroll themselves in a vocational course along with their regular education.

The impact assessment study has highlighted the need for more such schemes to be there, easily available at the State level. One of the learnings from the study is the need for policy level advocacy, research and development for accessible vehicles for people with disabilities and for the Foundation to add supportive programmes for its student applicants.

From this year onwards, the Foundation would put greater emphasis on student applicants, keeping with its focus on education.

What is important for the country in general and for the disability sector in particular is to introspect as to why most service delivery schemes of the Government or the ones being doled out by N.G.O.s have not been able to keep up with the times. Crores of rupees are wasted in continuing to dole out tricycles and bad quality aids and appliances. A review is long, long overdue.

There is also the larger issue of policy level advocacy. Accessible public transport is an impossible dream the moment one moves just a kilometre out of Delhi, probably the only metro to have some kind of accessibility. The less we talk about Mumbai, Chennai or Kolkata the better. In the rest of the country, accessibility is non-existent. Regular vehicles that are available to the general population do not have modified versions for people with disabilities. Places where they can be scientifically modified are again very few. For those, who are able to find a vehicle and a place to modify it, loans are not easily available.

In such a scenario, there needs to be more people who pay special focus on replicating such schemes and getting policies in place.

Empowerment of people with disabilities is only feasible if we talk equally about accessibility and Universal Design. Access is the key for anyones independence and empowerment. Sadly, while many of us work on silos in education, skills training and empowerment, we forget the fact that none of these are truly possible without accessibility of all kinds, not just infrastructure but transport, information, services, etc.

Until we have seamless connectivity, millions of young boys and girls, men and women with disabilities will continue to look up to a scheme such as this, hoping against hope that their luck would help them get one of those few hundred Motorised Tri-Wheelers. In a booming economy such as Indias, this is tragic and very, very unfortunate.

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