PICS: STÉPHANE HUËT
Gita Limbu was born a paraplegic and has been using a wheelchair since she was a teenager. Now 28, she remembers how hard it was to move around Kathmandu’s thoroughfares both because of the lack of infrastructure and the look of other people.
“Some even asked me why I was out in the streets and that I should stay in my house,” Limbu recalls. “That was painful.”
She not as embarrassed these days because people are less judgemental and they even help by pushing or lifting her wheelchair because Kathmandu is not exactly disabled-friendly.
“Kathmandu still lacks infrastructure for the disabled, the roads are in bad condition and it is worse during the monsoon,” Limbu says.
Om Prakash Banjade who is blind has noticed a similar change in attitude among the sighted. “Three years ago, people had good intentions but they weren’t sure if visually impaired would accept their help,” says this English teacher. “Now they are more aware and they know we welcome their aid.”
Banjade, 36, also wishes Kathmandu was a more disabled-friendly city. He deplores the lack of information when sidewalks or roads are being repaired. “Last week as I was going back home and fell into a hole which was not in the pavement in the morning,” he says.
Now, there are organisations like the Centre for Independent Living (CIL) which have been trying to promote disabled-friendly facilities in public transport and the streets. Its director Krishna Gautam says it is a disabled people’s organisation run by the disabled themselves.
“For a long time disabled were placed in specific institutions,” says Gautam who himself uses a wheelchair. “But it must be our own choice whether we want to be part of society or not.”
After regular lobbying with other partner organisations, Gautam considers things are on the right track. Nepal signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in January 2008, and the government has approved accessibility guidelines proposed by CIL in 2012. Still, Gautam regrets the lack of progress in upgrading infrastructure. For example, one of the few tactile pavements in town (pictured) is blocked by an electric pole.
And it has to start with Singha Durbar, where some ministries have made their offices accessible to the disabled. Sajha Yatayat has ordered buses that will have space for wheelchairs behind the driver. The moving force behind these initiatives has been Rudra Singh Tamang Chief of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC).
“There are no road standards in Nepal and it’s hard to circulate even for abled. How can we expect the city to be adapted to us?” he asks, hoping that the 25 April earthquake can be taken as an opportunity. “While rebuilding Kathmandu we can turn it into a disabled-friendly city.”
No right of passage, Sulaiman Daud
Physically challenged again, Manisha Gauchan
Our job to reach out, Samira Shakya
Differently-abled, Naresh Newar