‘During pandemic, persons with disabilities faced evictions, no exemption from going to office’


From primary school teachers to retired professors, the pandemic added to their daily struggles

This year has been about the new normal and working from home for many, but for some persons with disabilities (PwD), things haven’t changed much in 2020.

From a primary school teacher asked to come to the school every day to a retired professor asked to leave or pay market rent for the university accommodation he was planning to vacate before the lockdown was announced — both wheelchair users — the COVID-19 pandemic added to their daily struggles.

Speaking to The Hindu on the eve of the International Day for PwD on Thursday, Indu, a primary teacher with the South Delhi Municipal Corporation, said she had requested an exemption from attending school in July, but only received a reply in November that the civic body had no order or instruction to allow it. This, despite a memo for Central government employees by the Department of Personnel and Training saying “PwD and pregnant women employees shall continue to work from home till further orders” in October, she said.

“I requested for an exemption as I need assistance and won’t be able to maintain social distancing. Since I did not get an exemption, I have been going to school every day. Our students are not coming to school and I could have done the work I’m doing now from home as well. But instead of fighting the system, I thought it was better to just quietly do my work,” she said.

Retired Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) professor and ex-pro-vice-chancellor, Prof. P.R. Ramanujam, has been fighting a legal case against the university’s decision to charge him market rent after the allotment for the flat given to him ended in April. Prof. Ramanujam said he retired in August 2019 and as per university rules, he was eligible to retain the accommodation for eight months after that. He said he was planning to vacate the house by April 30, 2020, but the lockdown was imposed in March and then further extended. The university allowed him to retain the flat till May 31 on payment of double the license fee and then for another month after the lockdown was lifted at market rent, which is 65 times the license fee.

With the matter pending before a Division Bench of the Delhi High Court, Prof. Ramanujam said he had asked for time to relocate safely as being a wheelchair-user, senior citizen above 65 years and suffering from diabetes made him vulnerable to COVID-19.

“The rules pertaining to normal times cannot be applicable in the time of a crisis like a pandemic, because then it becomes like a double punishment,” he said.

While activists have welcomed the shift towards working from home and virtual events, issues of accessibility remain.

Dr. Satendra Singh, a physician and rights activist, said a long-term demand of PwD had been to allow working from home. “We used to be laughed at, but now the whole world is encouraging working from home,” he said.

He added that PwD had faced many problems during the lockdown, but did not have avenues for redressal. The post of the Chief Commissioner for PwD of the Social Justice Ministry did not have a permanent appointment, and the post of many State Commissioners, including Delhi, were vacant for months, he said.

“Where will people go if they have any complaints?” he said, adding that online platforms used by government bodies were not accessible to the visually-impaired.

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