Role of Universal Design India Principles in Policy Design

Introduction

The Oxford English Dictionary describes a policy as a ‘course of action adopted and pursued by a government, party, rulers, statesman, and so on… any course of action adopted as advantageous or expedient.’ Designing a policy would involve the laying down of plan by following logical steps towards planned conclusion.

Policies are extremely important for each of us. They determine the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. It affects health and safety, how we travel and where we work. It defines our living conditions. Policy in many ways molds the society we live and influences virtually every aspect of our lives. Therefore social inclusion through universality of policy must be considered as an important aspect for the success of any policy.

 UDIP and Policy Design Connections

There may be several steps that are followed while framing a policy. Applying the five Universal Design India Principles to policy designing will ensure that all aspects of stakeholders have been addressed in the design, development and application of the policy. Here are five important steps from the UDIP to employ when developing policies that will likely to impact diverse users: 

  • Deciding on the objective and identifying the appropriate target (Equitable) - The selection of objectives is derived from priorities and necessities set at the political level. These objects may be rooted in the political manifesto, inter-governmental agreements, international directives as well as codes, conventions and regulations.

It is important that the principle of Equitability is considered at the time deciding the objectives. Equality must be at the core of the policy designing process especially while identifying and prioritizing objectives of the policy. It is important that the objectives of the policy must provide equality in challenge and opportunities it provides to its stakeholders and does not discriminate against people of all ages, gender, disability, sizes, caste, class and religion. 

The target group may be identified as a result of a legislative or political commitment, international commitment or on the bases of national priorities. The United Nations Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) required India to review its existing policies to be equitable to disabled people and address their needs for inclusion.  Again while reviewing or formulating new policies for inclusion of disabled people, it is important to ensure that it is equitable across all disability type.

 Take for example the Pedestrian Policy for Delhi, the policy legislates fining all pedestrians who walk on the road and not the pavement, as  the road are presently unsafe walking environment. Considering that the Indian pavement design is a-contextual (does not take into consideration the needs of the pedestrians, hawkers and bystanders), and the current design is never enforced, the pavements are inaccessible for most disabled people. As a result, they have no option but to walk on the side of the road. One can easily deduce that at the time of identifying the target group, the policy makers did not think of pedestrians with disabilities. The policy that was thus formulated was discriminatory towards disabled people as their mobility and safety as pedestrians was jeopardized. The current policy is inequitable towards people with disabilities and puts them in a position of hardship and at a risk that others are not subjected to. Such policies are likely to fail as the fundamental objective of equal treatment to all stakeholders was neither observed nor practiced. Same is the case in railway stations, where people with disability are often forced to cross the tracks, which is illegal, but the over bridge is inaccessible to them.

  • Determining the route (Cultural) The policy development process is to identify stakeholders and their important social, behavioral and lifestyle characteristics. In the absence of clear understanding of cultural habits, polices will be ineffective and even fail. For example, as a part of Indian culture, people are used to going to airports and train stations to see people off. In the past, family and friends were allowed to go inside airports and train stations to say their loved ones goodbye. In today’s times and in the name of “security” people are no longer allowed to escort their loved ones to the plane or train; they are stopped outside. This causes them a great deal of anxiety as they wait outside crowding pavements and roads, causing inconvenience and even unsafe road condition. Clearly the socio – psychological aspects of Indian travelers and their friends and relatives were overlooked and this creates lots of problem to those following and enforcing the policy.

Also in India where culturally there is a strong underlying setup of recycling waste through the rag pickers and the kabariwala, it may be advisable to take this setup into consideration when developing a recycling policy. Strengthening the traditional practices by including them into the new policy will ensure its application and enforcement, making it more acceptable to everybody.

Though the Government has a policy of Education for All, but historically speaking, children from Dalit families and children with disabilities are often excluded due to social and environmental barriers that are currently in place. For the policy to be effective, the Government needs to understand the cultural mindsets responsible for these attitudinal barriers and attend to the removal of these barriers alongside the enforcement of the Education for All policy. For the Government to succeed, simultaneous effort is required for addressing cultural issues that limit the implementation and effectiveness of the policy.

  •  Designing the intervention (Aesthetic)–This is where the actual designing of the policy happens and the policy is formulated after discussion with all stakeholders. It is important that the policy document is aesthetically drafted so that it is easy to read and comprehend. Intervention design would look into aspects of how the policy document communicates with the readers and how easy or difficult it is to follow and understand. Taking the example of the UNCRPD, an international convention that applies to India is originally in English language. For it to be read, understood and appreciated by most Indians with disability, it is important to translate the policy document in Hindi and other important regional languages. Care is to be taken while translating, since any misinterpretation of words or use of improper words while language conversion may lead to confusion. The policy needs to reach the stakeholders and appropriate language and aesthetically pleasant mode for representation is required for effective communication.  Drafting a policy aesthetically implies addressing communication issues so that the policy is can be read, comprehended and implemented by all stakeholders.

Aesthetic may also be considered from the point of clarity and simplicity in which the policy is written. For example India’s primary legislation for disabled people – the Persons with Disability Act 1995 in its chapter on Non Discrimination states in section 46(a) ‘Ramps in public buildings;’ but it may be criticized on the basis that the meaning of a public building is not clearly defined in the Act causing ambiguity and hence poor implementation.

  • Cost and financing (Economical)- Cost is a key element of the policy development process. The design of any policy must be cost effective keeping multiple factors in mind for greatest impact. The designing process must ensure that the policy is Economical from the point of perceived benefits it provides. Unless the policy is cost effective and provides benefits that matches with the stakeholder expectations,  it is unlikely to be accepted and implemented.

Taking the example of the pedestrian and public transport infrastructure in Delhi that was greatly improved because of the Commonwealth games that were hosted in Delhi. The design of the pedestrian environment and the transport system is such that it is difficult for a manual wheelchair user to access it while facilitating use by electric wheelchair users. Having stated this it might have been more economical for the government to provide electric wheelchairs rather than manual wheelchair in the assistive aids policy to the disabled user, rather than redoing the new infrastructure to increase independent mobility of disabled people. 

  •  Implementing the measure and assessing its impact (Usability) - it is clear that implementation is crucial to effectiveness, efficiency and consistency of a policy. A plan that may be excellent on paper could end up being very different from its intent if not properly implemented. Additionally, all policies and programs should assess and correct their course on an ongoing basis. There is also a vital learning component implicit in this work, which leads to better quality practice when lessons are widely shared

To ensure implementation it is therefore important that the policy should be so designed that it is useable to all the stakeholders, which include not only the beneficiaries of the policy but also the administrators, political party, legal system and the industry. If the policy does not facilitate usability, operation and convenience, then there are high chances of the policy proposals getting non-implemented by the stakeholders. .

Conclusion

Universality must be an inbuilt component of any policy. It will enable acceptance by majority and be implemented successfully with greatest benefits. Applying the UDIP help in bringing in this universality in the policy formulation process.

Equitability should be at the core of the policy development process. Even if it’s aimed at a certain group of people, diversity within the group must be addressed equally.

Policy design must be sensitive to the past and present Cultural uniqueness of the region. Attempt to fit a successful policy from a region with different cultural background is bound to have low acceptability. .

 Economy is an important factor that must be carefully looked into while designing a policy. A policy that is cost effective and aims to progressively reduce dependence on the system are most likely to be successful and have greatest benefits.

 Aesthetics in terms of clarity of the objectives proposed in the policy statement is also an important requirement. The policy document should be clearly written and easily understood by all stakeholders.

Once the policy document is ready and enforced, finally the success of the policy will depend on the Usability of it by various stakeholders. The entire implementation, review, evaluation and appraisal process should be easy to do.

India  is known for its diversity. But unfortunately, there is segregation made on the basis disabled and non-disabled, poor and rich, rural and urban, old and young, women and men. Therefore today as it marches towards become becoming a strong nation there is an urgent need to have inclusive policies as a way forward.

 

Author - Shivani Gupta 

shivani@accessability.co.in

Published in Design For All Newsletter November 2011 

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