Jagannath Chandra Roy was looking forward to attend the programme on dignified equality and prevention of violence against women at the newly renovated auditorium of Hajee Mohammad Danesh Science and Technology University (HSTU) on Thursday morning.
He arrived at the venue on time on his wheelchair but could not get inside the auditorium.
Lack of a single ramp prevented the 48-year-old man without legs from climbing the three steps that led to the auditorium’s gate with dignity and without anyone’s help.
Fortunately, staffs of Centre for Disability and Development (CDD), one of the organisers of the programme, quickly set up a makeshift ramp with a plank and Jagannath with help from other people was able to get inside on his wheel chair.
“Had it not for that quick fix, someone would have to carry me or I would have to crawl inside the venue,” he said.
Mosaddek Hossain, 45, and Raju Mardi, 20, also faced similar chagrin at the auditorium gate, when they arrived on their wheelchairs as invitees.
Around 50 persons with disabilities along with other students and faculty members of the university were present at the HSTU campus that day to attend the awareness programme, jointly organised by the university and CDD under a project funded by Manusher Jonno Foundation.
CDD officials explained that under that project they raise awareness in educational institutions about gender equality and prevention of violence against women.
Established 20 years ago in Dinajpur Sadar Upazila, HSTU is the only science and technology university in the eight districts of Rangpur division.
Last year in September, the 270-seat auditorium was renovated at a cost of Tk 1.08 crore with all modern facilities except ramps and disable-friendly toilets.
However, the Persons with Disabilities Rights and Protection Act, 2013, stipulates that all public buildings, both government and private, must be made accessible to persons with disabilities.
Provisions in this regard also exists in the National Education Policy, said Shuvashis Chandra Mahanta, regional coordinator of CDD in Dinajpur.
Yet, CDD staffs often have to make temporary arrangements for accessibility in venues, where they hold events, as the 2013 law has not been fully implemented by all institutions, he added.
NGO worker Anamika Pandey, who was present at the programme, told The Daily Star that none of the buildings of HSTU are accessible to persons with disabilities.
She works for Dinajpur-based Community Development Association, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), which focuses on disability issues.
“We requested the university authority several times to build disable-friendly structures in the campus and to introduce admission quotas for persons with disabilities,” she said.
After the Thursday morning fiasco, Vice Chancellor of HSTU Professor Dr M Abul Kashem in his speech promised to make his institution disability-friendly.
At present, the university has around 10,000 students but none with disabilities as defined in the law, Fazlul Haque, registrar of HSTU told this correspondent over phone.
He said, this year they will admit one person with physical disability but the admission procedure has not been decided yet.
“We are not admitting persons with visual, hearing and speech impairment because we do not have any facilities to meet their special needs,” the registrar said.
He added that some of the buildings in the campus has ramps and they will install ramps where necessary.
Every year, HSTU admits about 2,200 students.
Executive Engineer of HSTU Chand Ali said nobody brought the issue about ramps to his notice before.
Initiative will be taken for building a ramp there, he assured when contacted.
Among the 45 universities of the country only Jahangirnagar University has a five percent admission quota for persons with disabilities. Dhaka, Rajshahi, Chattogram, Sylhet Shahjalal and Barisal universities admits students with disabilities once they pass the written portion of the admission test, informed Mohammad Jahangir Alam, thematic expert in disability and inclusive development, CDD.
He said that most public universities lag behind in ensuring proper infrastructural accessibility for persons with physical disabilities.
Jahangir noted that ramps alone are not; other features including disable-friendly toilet needs to be present in a building to ensure full accessibility.