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Sexuality and Disability India

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A group picture of many women smiling. They wear saris and salwar kameez.

The right to accessible public spaces

Monday, the 5th of December 2016, was day two of our My Access workshop campaign. It was held at the National Association for the Blind in Worli, Mumbai, where we partnered with SNEHA and NAB. Seventeen visually impaired women members from NAB were present as participants and SNEHA was represented by eighteen community workers, who work on domestic violence.

Participants elucidate on one thing they would like to do – from learning how to drive, to going on a date with PM Narendra Modi! The discussion switched to the very idea of being a woman in society and the travails associated with it. The participants from SNEHA vehemently stressed the need to stand up for one’s rights. We moved on to safety in public spaces, and drew up lists of things that made one feel safe and unsafe. Expected perpetrators such as unwanted stares and contact, poor condition of roads etc popped up, while participants felt safe with friends or even having a mobile phone. Some participants also shared their personal experiences of street sexual harassment and ways to fight back. Other points which came up were the need to be assertive while dealing with intrusive people, and the duty to stand up for others facing sexual harassment. After that, we went out for a walk in the neighbourhood.

A variety of obstacles were frequently encountered, such as poles, potholes and uneven footpaths, due to which we had to take to the road – which was also risky due to oncoming traffic, as well as garbage and other debris. Upon completion, several participants shared their feedback with everyone. For many non-disabled people, this was their first interaction with visually impaired persons, and they were struck by how difficult and inaccessible, public roads were for them. Common hindrances, like sludge or pot holes on the road make it next to impossible for visually impaired people to travel alone. A few visually impaired women remarked that they often relied on intuition and memory to travel. Yet, on the whole, traversing public spaces alone was considered a risky task. The discussion concluded on the note that accessible public spaces are an integral part of women’s rights, and we need to work towards realising this right.