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Sexuality and Disability India

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A woman with a cane holds on to another woman's arm. They walk across a road.

Broken bottles and sleeping dogs: Barriers to #MyAccess

#MyAccess unrolled on December 1st with the first safety walk organized at National Association for the Blind (NAB), Worli, where we conducted a sexuality workshop in the past. Our participants included women with visual impairments and female students from Wilson, Sophia and St Xavier’s colleges.

All the participants answered these three questions before embarking on the walk in pairs.

When do you feel safe?

  • When do you feel unsafe?
  • How do you keep yourself safe?
  • Chits from participants with their answers.
  • Chits from participants with their answers.

Here’s what they said:

  • Both sighted and non-sighted participants said they feel safe at home, in college, around their friends and people they know.
  • Both groups said they feel unsafe outside their homes, around boys, when traveling, at night, going to unknown places and being around unknown people.
  • Many non-sighted women also said they started feeling unsafe the moment they stepped out of their house.
  • Non-sighted women said they also feel unsafe in crowded places, around people they don’t know and feel safer around sighted people they know.
  • To feel safer, most non-sighted participants wrote that they do not venture out after dark, they travel with a known person, avoid strangers and avoid going to isolated places. A few said that keeping mobile phones handy makes them feel safer.
  • To feel safer, many sighted participants reported using their cell phones. They take measures like keeping their phone contacts updated, call 100 if necessary, call a friend, use a safety app, keep their family informed about their locations etc.

Following this, participants broke into two groups. One group did a safety audit down Abdul Ghaffar Khan Marg (Worli Seaface) to Worli Naka, the other explored the roads behind and around Worli Seaface, which visually-impaired women regularly use to get to NAB.

Here’s what they said after these safety audits:

Participants reported obstructions on their path such as:

  • Low tree branch
  • Barricade poles
  • Elevated manhole covers
  • Open potholes and ditches
  • Stray dogs
  • Open garbage strewn on the streets
  • Broken glass bottles
  • Tea vendors
  • Vehicles parked on the pavement meant for walking

For women with visual impairments, these are all barriers to mobility and accessibility – especially since they can’t see sleeping dogs, broken bottles etc. Interestingly, sighted women reported the presence of groups of loitering men as obstacles to safety; this was not reported by visually-impaired women, who couldn’t see them.

Participants also highlighted other issues such as:

  • Honking of vehicles: this distracts non-sighted people from their path
  • Traffic signals, which don’t have sound signals for the visually-impaired
  • Buses, which don’t have sound cues: Those who are visually-impaired cannot identify which bus is approaching and must depend on others for help.

We hope the #AccessibleIndia campaign can work to make the streets more accessible for women who are visually-impaired.