NOTHING FOR US WITHOUT US is truth, not just a slogan – V.S. Sunder ********************************
I had already done enough decent mathematics before falling victim to Multiple Sclerosis to ensure that I would continue to receive invitations to lecture all over the country and the world. My mobility deteriorated and in less than a decade, I needed a wheelchair to continue to be functional. Unfortunately, one also needs an inclusive and barrier-free environment to be able to use that wheelchair.
And thus began various attempts (I even wrote a column in ToI for more than a year, and now a blog called Different Strokes) to sensitise people on the need for conditions to enable PwD (NOT Divyang) to stay contributing members of society. To start with, my institute (IMSc, in Taramani, Chennai) had a director who needed no convincing to render our campus accessible to my wheelchair. And I thought, why not try to sensitise others, at least in my academic circles. So whenever I was invited for a conference or to just give a talk somewhere, I would spell out my physical condition and accessibility requirements, promising to hold my host responsible if these conditions were not met. I do believe I have thus contributed to sensitising the administrations of the IITs at Mumbai, Kanpur and Madras to make small changes.
One of my greater successes started when I went to a conference felicitating Kumaresan, a friend of many decades; in fact, we started the now famously successful MTTS programme. And he promised to talk to his VC at the University of Hyderabad if needed to ensure my accessible stay there. This VC turned out to be an old friend, Ram Ramaswamy, from the time we were both young post-docs at TIFR. I talked him into getting Shivani Gupta to perform an access audit of the campus. And UoH was recently selected for the seventh NCPDEDP-Mphasis Universal Design Awards for exemplary work towards the cause of Accessibility.
In contrast, when I, alongside many friends of the Disability Rights Alliance (DRA) in Chennai sought to talk to various Government big shots on matters related to accessibility, they would always ask us to come to somebody’s chamber in the Secretariat, a hideously inaccessible place!