The Inaccessible City: Impaired Bodies in Urban Spaces

Saturday, 21 July 2018: 12:30
Oral Presentation
Nandini GHOSH, Institute of Development Studies Kolkata, India
The city is one of the crucial factors in the social production of corporeality providing the context and coordinates for most of the contemporary forms of the body (Grosz 1999). Public spaces play a vital role in the social life of communities. They act as a ‘self-organising public service’, a shared resource in which experiences and value are created (Mean and Tims, 2005). Yet accessibility to public spaces is very often limited by norms, representations, and symbolic images linked to different functions and identities. Disabled people confront hostile built environments within the city, as both building form and design are inscribed with the values of an 'able-bodied' society, reflecting and legitimizing oppressive and discriminatory practices against disabled people. The problematical aspects of access, of exclusion and segregation, is part of the comprehensive system of social oppression where the actions and practices of agents and institutions in a wider framework of social structures, values and ideologies circumscribe the possibilities of access for disabled people. The streets of Indian cities have almost always been a nightmare for people with disabilities.

The state in India has adopted guidelines and space standards for barrier free built environment for persons with disability which covers universal accessibility standards and responds to the varying needs of all users, in order to promote inclusion of persons with disabilities. This paper will explore how, despite inclusive state policies, contemporary urban spaces are rendered exclusionary for persons with different disabilities, thereby reflecting social attitudes and values where non-normate bodies are shunned and avoided. The paper will reflect on accessibility provisions in specific public spaces, like the streets and market places, to elaborate how, instead of becoming inclusive, urban spaces, facilities and amenities are increasingly catering to abilist ideologies of the fit and young user/consumer, while denying access to disabled people.