Interview with Ms Anjlee Agarwal, Founder & Executive Director, Samarthyam

2015.12.10

1. Please share with us some of the good work Samarthyam has been doing for the case of accessibility and inclusion.

Samarthyam was founded to promote universal accessibility, rights of people with disabilities in the Asia pacific region and equality and empowerment of girls and women with disabilities. Samarthyam is accredited by United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and currently functional in five countries in AP - India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Philippines. Samarthyam has been focusing on supporting organisations and government to create non-handicapping environment, and ensuring accessible services and facilities in built, transport and tourism infrastructure in India. In addition, Samarthyam has been advocating to stop violence against women and girls with disabilities in India and the UN.

Under its Project “National Centre for Accessible Environments (NCAE)”,Samarthyam evaluates, develops, and promotes universal accessibility in built & outdoor environments, transportation systems, information communication technology and products. Samarthyam’s goal is to promote the understanding and implementation of accessibility of the sustainable built, social and virtual environments, using the guiding principles of Universal Design and articles of the Convention of the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD). It includes architectural, infrastructural design, transportation systems, habitat and information & communication technologies; so that everyone, including people with disabilities and seniors (old people) can fully participate and contribute to society.

2. Please share with us what keeps you personally excited on this journey. Please share your personal story and some anecdotes that you fondly recall.

As a woman with disability myself, I believe in active advocacy and haveadvocated policy level changes to make ‘Incredible India as Inclusive India’. Over nearly last 2 decades, I have worked as researcher, accessibility consultant and disability rights activist in APregion. I also founded Women with Disabilities Forum for Action, and co-ordinate Women with Disabilities India network. 

These efforts have been duly acknowledged in the Convention onElimination of all forms of Discrimination AgainstWomen (CEDAW) for the first time including women with disabilities in their Concluding Observations, 2014. 

I have co-authored Guidelines on Protection of Children with Disabilities from exploitation, Violence and Abuse for Government of India.

I have organized several mass awareness campaigns in India on social issues, viz. Right to Walk; Right to Sanitation; Inclusive Education; Violence against Women and Empowerment of Women with Disabilities, Make the Right Real, etc. 

Based on my 2 decades of work on Universal Design, I have authored several manuals on accessible designs that can benefit many organizations in India as well as most developing countries to follow accessible design principles.

3. Would you like to share key developments in corporate, government, regulation and other ecosystem that are promoting accessibility and inclusion?

Today, accessibility to public places, inclusion, and barrier-free environment are the key objectives government and corporates aim to offer.  Organizations such as Delhi Metro, Indian Railways, Bus Rapid Transit, etc. have invited us to conduct accessibility audit and provide disability inclusive recommendations to make their infrastructureaccessible. Key public spaces such as metro stations, train coaches for disabled in railways, buses, bus shelter, etc. are accessible to People with Disabilities (PwDs) to a great extent.  Key accessibility features include elevators, tactile paving in metro stations, accessible parking spaces, way finding signage, etc.

Archeological Survey of India (ASI), is working with Samarthyam and has been instrumental since 2004 in mounting Braille plates on key heritage monuments such as Safdarjung tomb and other ASI sites.  10 popular temples (e.g. Konark- Sun Temple) of the world Heritage Sites under the aegis of ASI have been accessibility audited.  Commonwealth games in India ensured accessible designs to ensure access.

Ministry of Urban Development has enlisted 50 public buildings such as Prime Minister’s office, Parliament House, Supreme Court, VigyanBhawan, NirmanBhawan, etc. Samarthyam is the pioneer organization which conducted accessibility audited of these 50 key public buildings with implementation strategies.

Public and private institutions are coming forward to fund education for PwDs under their CSR initiatives and/or hire them as diverse workforce.

4. How has technology helped advance the cause of accessibility and inclusion?

Technology has played a vital role in enabling access. Accessible designs with the use of right technologies are essential for ensuring access to physical infrastructure, information and communication technology.  Under Samarthyam, we have created a manufacturing unit “Access Plus” to custom-make the devices such as Tactile maps, Braille signage, Grab bars for bathrooms, shower seats, urinal support grab bars, audio beepers etc.to enhance independent living for PwDs. There are assistive technologies available to assist PwDs with various disabilities, disability sports, and even lifestyle products such as Braille watches and Braille smart phones. Our focus at Samarthyam has primarily been to provide products and technologies to facilitate enabling environment for people with reduced mobility and disabilities.

5. What role you see Getmeenabled.com playing in this ecosystem?

There are number of assistive technologies, indigenous as well as imported, to address various disabilities and help PwDs and elderly lead an independent life.  Many of these products are not easily available (accessible) to PwDs at affordable prices in India.  Getmeenabled.com has bridged this gap by making available assistive technology products to PwD and elderly population in India at their door-steps. It is nice to see a one-stop shop specialising in all assistive technology products under one umbrella.  

For more details, check www.samarthyam.com or write to the Anjlee Agarwal at samarthyaindia@yahoo.com  

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