It is an honour to get this recognition.
DEOC has been working for more than 10 years to promote disability inclusion and universal design in employment, higher education, accessibility and other development related areas.
However, our work has largely been in the ‘background’…
People (even friends) have asked me at various times, regarding the work DEOC does.
That’s when I realised that we have not talked much about our work and the challenges we have encountered along the way that have contributed so much to our learning.
I now feel that it is important to disseminate information about the nature of our work so that people may be made aware and so, can gain from our experiences and work with DEOC.
With this recognition conferred upon DEOC we have now gotten the opportunity to do so.
Some of our significant work includes
- The development of a holistic framework for corporates that allows them to create an inclusive workplace for people with disabilities
- The setting up of policies and processes that allow for reasonable accommodation to be extended in higher education
- The inclusion of disability in sustainable development goals
- A progress report on the CRPD
- Research on accessibility standards
- A paper on laws discriminating against people affected by leprosy
- The inclusion of disability in employment surveys
- White papers on various aspects like education, health and employment
- A manual on the RPWD Act
- Sample equal opportunity policy
- …and so on.
DEOC authored a book in 2007 on employment for the Confederation of Indian Industries called the CII manual which is in use even today.
Some of our clients have even gotten recognition, in terms of awards, for their work on disability inclusion.
In the field of disability, where there are very few professionals/subject matter specialists, DEOC’s role has been crucial in addressing this lack.
We see ourselves as facilitators and as an extended arm of the client we work for.
DEOC is composed of an inclusive team with several years of education and experience in disability.
DEOC is perhaps the only organisation in India that has the capacity to work with a wide range of stakeholders across different disabilities and to bring universal design elements into every aspect of development. The story below will explain the role of DEOC more clearly.
One of the possible reasons that we got this award is for the role played by DEOC in the revision of the National Building Code (NBC) 2016 to include accessibility in all its relevant chapters.
I take this opportunity to share the story behind the revision of the NBC.
The story begins in September 2015 at the National Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (NCRPD) meeting in New Delhi where NCPEDP partners had gathered from all over the country (it was in this forum in 2008, where the idea of having a new law on disability had its genesis and which was finally enacted in 2016).
Here, we (DEOC) conducted a session on Accessibility for the partners where the prevalent standards and the way forward was extensively discussed.
Mr. Arman Ali (who is the ED of Shishu Sarothi) brought up an issue that most architects were just not aware of accessibility standards because these standards were given as an Annexure in the NBC (2005).
Immediately after the meeting, Ms. Rati Misra of NCPEDP did a quick search and found out that the NBC was under revision.
Late Mr. Javed Abidi, the then Honorary Director of NCPEDP, wrote to the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) seeking more information about the revision of NBC. BIS replied that the draft chapters were widely circulated for feedback and sent Annexure B, which focuses on accessibility standards, for our feedback.
We (DEOC) did not want to restrict ourselves to just to the Annexure. We went through a few draft chapters and immediately pointed out that the accessibility of persons with disabilities should be included in all relevant chapters and that the universal design approach should be followed in the NBC.
We backed our argument with concrete examples, from a few draft chapters, like Lifts and Plumbing, where accessibility was either not addressed or was addressed in an exclusionary manner.
Based on these concrete examples, Mr. Abidi initiated an advocacy campaign with BIS to include accessibility in an appropriate manner in all relevant parts of the NBC.
At the same time, a media campaign was also started.
This was also the time that the Accessible India Campaign was being launched by the Government of India.
NCPEDP pointed out to Mr. Mukesh Jain, the then Joint Secretary of the Department of Empowerment of People with Disabilities, that if NBC 2016 is not corrected, it would not be possible to ensure that new buildings, the architecture curriculum and the building bylaws incorporate accessibility.
Realising this, he provided his support to NCPEDP in advocacy with BIS (which falls under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs). Multiple meetings were organized with the top officials of BIS.
BIS was adamant stating that it was too late to include accessibility in other chapters and that modifying the Annexure is what we ought to focus on.
To counter this, we at DEOC, i.e. me and Ms. Ruchira Sarin (Principal Architect of DEOC), without wasting any time, started reviewing the chapters of the NBC.
There were 13 parts in the NBC with some parts having several chapters and some chapters were about 300 pages long.
The final deadline for sending in the recommendations was December 2016. Time was of the essence here. So, we requested Ms. Shivani Gupta of Accessibility to be in the team. We devised a strategy. We reviewed those chapters first for which the time was still there to submit the suggestions.
Parallely, NCPEDP was advocating with the BIS (with the support of Disability Department and PMO) to get a suitable extension. They succeeded. We got an extension of three months. We were given time till March 2016 to submit recommendations for all the chapters.
We gave specific recommendations for adding/deleting/modifying the text in a form which would be easy to incorporate in the document.
When NBC 2016 was released in March 2107, we were happy to see that about 80% of our recommendations were included. Most chapters included accessibility and provided suitable cross references to Annexure B of Part 3 which dealt with accessibility standards in detail.
Accessibility standards have been included in 11 out of the 13 Parts of NBC 2016 in Sections such as Integrated approach, administration, lifts, fire and life safety, lighting, electrical installation, air conditioning, acoustics, water supply, solid waste management, sanitation, gas supply, landscape, asset and facility management, glass and glazing, information and communication enabled installations, etc.
The most important recommendations, which are likely to be game changers in the long run, are listed below.
- Inclusion of an ‘accessibility and universal design specialist’ in the construction business: In Part Zero, under ‘Team Approach’, where 20 specialists were listed in the working draft of NBC, i.e. architects, civil engineers, electrical engineers, interior designers, security system specialists, acoustics specialists, health, safety and environment specialists, sustainability specialists,etc., we had recommended that, ‘accessibility and universal design specialist’ should be added. This has been done.
- Periodic Access Audits: Periodic access audits have been added in NBC in two places (Part Zero and Part 2) based on our recommendations.
- The draft chapters of NBC either didn’t have any accessibility standards or followed an exclusionary approach by including phrases such as“lift for the differently abled people” and so on. We got such phrases changed to appropriate ones such as “all lifts open to public shall adhere to accessibility provisions… ”,etc. We also got cross references added so as to link the accessibility standards given in various chapters and in Annexure B of Part 3.
- In the Facility and Asset management chapter, we ensured that several provisions such as Training and skilling, the Facility Handbook, user feedback and so on, mention people with disabilities.
Getting accessibility included in the National Building Code is a huge development.
Of course, for the next revision, we need to be involved in the process right from the beginning. Experts in the area of universal design should be part of all the committees that draft the various Parts of NBC so that a universal design approach is truly followed.
The work is not over yet in terms of policy change in the area of built environment… For instance, the building bylaws which govern construction work at the municipality level need to be modified. The Model Building By-Laws (MBBL) of 2016 formulated by Ministry of Urban Development seems to have taken a very different approach regarding accessibility.
One prominent example is that they have differentiated between buildings that need to be accessible for small wheelchairs and buildings that need to be accessible for big wheelchairs. Such an approach is clearly unacceptable.
DEOC has already reviewed the MBBL and made suitable recommendations. NCPEDP had already initiated the dialogue with the MoUD.
It is really sad that Mr. Abidi passed away so suddenly. We hope that NCPEDP and all those working in the area of accessibility take this agenda forward and advocate for changing the bylaws at the local levels so that they are in line with NBC 2016.
It is only then the mandate of The RPWD Act will be achieved.
Read more about DEOC’s work at http://www.deoc.in/reports/