The needs of people with disabilities are often overlooked and the pandemic has only made this worse. But now, small steps are being taken to rectify the situation
People with autism now have a cool place to hang out in Taipei City in Taiwan, as the nightclub Chess Taipei has started hosting events for them. For one party, guests were given masks and guided by an instructor to dance the night away. About 30 people showed up at the club, which is for people aged 18 and above. Tsai Ping-kun, the deputy mayor of Taipei, called the event the first of its kind in Asia. “The reason we are doing this is because of an important belief,” Ping-kun told Associated Press. “The belief in equal rights. Each person should have the opportunity and the right to use all kinds of facilities in this city.”
The needs of people with disabilities are often overlooked. And the pandemic has only made things worse. In fact, a majority of the population may have experienced by now what it feels to be socially excluded and isolated. Needless to say, it’s imperative that activities and community events are organised for those living in solitary confinement, so that they can meet like-minded people.
Adam Yi is one of the organisers of the Chess Taipei initiative through the charity he volunteers with called Sport and Recreational Activity Association for People with Autism. Yi was already looking for something like this and now he’s a part of creating it. The chairman of the organisation, Lee Tong-lin, found the event to be moving. “This is helpful for people with autism, very helpful,” Tong-lin told Associated Press. “As you might have seen, they were all pretty excited when dancing. They were very happy, and they were interacting with each other.”
For most people, the scope of making spaces accessible for people with disabilities begins and ends with straightening out infrastructural barriers. Construction of ramps, providing wheelchair access and removing or tweaking entry and exit barriers are considered sufficient. However, for a large number of disabilities, such a narrow definition of accessibility can hardly suffice. How will ramp construction ease access for people who have visual or hearing impairment, or those who have intellectual disabilities? It may be difficult for those with disabilities to visit public places due to inaccessible toilets or any other form of discrimination. Further, unwelcoming attitudes and lack of knowledge among staff and event organisers can lead to disabled people feeling isolated. Not surprisingly, for people living with disabilities across the world, going to bars and clubs takes a lot of preparation.
When it comes to children with disabilities, it is important to find a place where a visual schedule is displayed, whether it is posted on a refrigerator, wall or door. It’s also best to break down the activities into concrete tasks. For example, schoolwork could be separated into representations of reading, math and writing. Structure and routine for a child with disability help. With different home routines, a schedule helps a child in participating in some activities in a different way. Schedules and routines are tools to help communicate. Those with disabilities might need objects to help them understand the activities.
Today, technology has changed how individuals with disabilities work. Motorised scooters, hearing aids and AI have helped people with disabilities around the world. New products with different levels of abilities ensure that technology works for everyone. Like audiobooks help the blind enjoy literature. E-tailer Amazon India promotes its inclusive workplace policy by setting up ‘silent stations’ where all the operations and package deliveries are handled by individuals with hearing and speech impairments. Voiceitt, an app for people with speech impediments, includes both those who need it temporarily after strokes and brain injuries, and those with more long-term conditions like cerebral palsy. It uses machine learning to recognise any mispronunciations, and normalises their speech before creating an output of audio or text.
Similarly, a Virginia-based company has launched an app designed to make public transit more accessible to riders with visual, hearing and mobility impairments. INIT Innovations in Transportation, which has developed software for use with buses, light rail and trains since 1999, designed ASSISTIVEtravel, a passenger information and journey planning app. It was born out of two research projects. The first was to develop a public transit system that provided barrier-free access for passengers with special mobility needs and the second focused on the interfaces between the vehicle and mobile devices of passengers.