Accessible homes: beyond public spaces is a human right

Accessible housing is not a matter commonly raised and discussed by persons with disabilities, their families, disabled peoples organisations and definitely not by the government in India. However, the existing situation of housing for most of us persons with disabilities is not the best. A handful of us live in homes where we can undertake activities we enjoy and even making us more dependent on our support providers. In addition, there are a large number of disabled persons who are unable to come out of their homes except if they have to go to the doctor facing intense lifelong isolation.  Yet we as a sector or the community has not identified it as a problem and perhaps because homes are seen as a personal space left to the individuals without state intervention. However the inaccessible of home environments is the first discrimination a disabled person can face as it denies then the opportunity to live independently[1].

In the absence of a strong unified voice demanding of accessible homes for persons with disabilities it is not surprising, it doesn’t find the required importance it deserves in the new Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016. However, the UN Special Rapporteur’s report on adequate housing recognises the absence of initiatives promoting the human right of persons with disabilities to adequate housing. According to her, “For persons with disabilities, choosing where and with whom to live, being part of a community and having access to adequate and accessible housing are central to a life of dignity, autonomy, participation, inclusion, equality and respect for diversity”[2].

The right to housing enshrined in article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has been understood to encompass much more than physical shelter and encompassing in security, peace and dignity and entails protection against forced eviction; free from arbitrary interference with one’s home, privacy and family and freedom to determine where one lives. The recognition and content of the Right to Adequate Housing is enshrined in various human rights instruments, including General Comment 7 and 4 from the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which outline the essential elements of the right to adequate housing as (a) Legal security of tenure; (b) Availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure, (c) Affordability; (d) Habitability; (e) Accessibility; (f) Location and (g) Cultural adequacy[3], [4]. Those aspects of the right to housing have special meaning for persons with disabilities and give rise to particular obligations of States and other actors1 above

So what does this mean to us persons with disabilities living in India? The right to housing has been interpreted under article 21 of the Constitution of India by looking at housing as being interconnected with the right to life and personal liberty. Furthermore, India has ratified the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities and article 19 of the Convention specifies that persons with disabilities should have the opportunity to choose their place of residence and where and with whom they live on an equal basis with others. According to General comment, 5 on article 19  requires the housing sector to ensure that new dwellings are built according to accessibility standards and that persons with disabilities are included in social housing schemes.[5]

However, in the present scenario, we do not see that new dwellings are based on accessibility standards in India. Rather we have not even adopted any standards that are suitable for private space accessibility such as homes. The housing schemes whether in urban or in rural areas address quota in allotment for persons with disabilities but do not consider accessibility.  Therefore, there is a need that we collectively create a demand for accessible housing and negotiate with the government to give us our right to housing in a manner that respects our rights, life, choice and dignity.

The blog is written by Shivani Gupta, Founder AccessAbility. shivan@accessability.co.in

References:

[1] According to general comment 5 on Article 19 of the UNCRPD – Living independently does not mean living alone or in isolation.[1] Rather, it means exercising freedom of choice and control over decisions affecting one’s life with the same level of independence and interdependence within society on an equal basis with others.

[2] Adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and the right to non-discrimination in this context – Report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context, UN, 2017

[3] UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), General Comment No. 7: The right to adequate housing (Art.11.1): forced evictions, 20 May 1997, E/1998/22

[4] UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), General Comment No. 4: The Right to Adequate Housing (Art. 11 (1) of the Covenant), 13 December 1991, E/1992/23

[5] General comment no. 5, Article 19: Living independently and be included in the community: 29 Aug. 2017, UN Committee on the rights of persons with disabilities

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