WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama on Friday named a visually impaired Indian-American to an independent US agency devoted to easing the hard life for people with disabilities, continuing a half-century old American drive to improve nation-wide access for the physically challenged.
The White House notified that Sachin Dev Pavithran, programme director of the Utah Assistive Technology Programme at Utah State University’s Center for Persons with Disabilities, will soon become a member of the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board.
The agency, known simply as the Access Board, was created in 1973 to ensure design standards across the US to enable access to the physically impaired.
The Access Board and the laws that led to its creation is the reason why sidewalks across America have become wheelchair-friendly, parking spots closest to entrances and exits are reserved for the physically challenged, and the disabled and handicapped have easy access to metros, subways, ATMs etc though specially-designed ramps and elevators.
Pavitran has over a decade of experience as a disability policy analyst and consultant, and is among the group that drives developing of and training in assistive technologies. Blind himself, he has served on the research and development committee of the National Federation of the Blind.
Although Indian society offers plenty of lip sympathy for the physically challenged, the compassion does not easily translate into concrete action to help the disabled. Delhi Metro and a few new structures have sought to address the issue, but life remains a challenge for the disabled in an overcrowded, no-holds-barred society.
US action in this regard began in the mid-60s when Hugh Gallagher, a wheel-chair-bound aide to US Senator E L Bartlett, found it hard to enter the National Gallery of Art, located right across his office in the United States capitol.
Bartlett persuaded the Gallery to install a ramp for Gallagher, but realizing this was a nationwide challenge, he initiated legislation that resulted in laws such as the Architectural Barriers Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
While the US concealed President Franklin Roosevelt’s waist-down paralysis in the 1930s, physical disability is not considered a hindrance or taboo in public life.
Many American lawmakers and top officials today are severely disabled, allowing for constant improvement in access. Former Senator Max Cleland from Georgia is a triple amputee (both legs and an arm due to a grenade blast in the Vietnam War).
More recently, Tammy Duckworth, a Iraq war veteran who lost both her legs in a rocket attack, was elected to Congress from Illinois. Two Republican Presidential candidates, Bob Dole and John McCain, also carried war injuries.