On a recent morning as Nabina Gyawali and her husband Arjun Paudel make their way home to Balkhu, they hit their first snag: the tactile guiding pavement supposed to help them navigate lead them straight into a concrete electricity pole.
The guiding blocks run along the bus park sidewalk which are a favourite spot for people to urinate. Some bystanders stare and others trip on the white cane as the two make their way through the crowd. Rude street vendors spreading their wares on the guiding blocks ask them to move away.
“Half my disability is due to the lack of infrastructure. In America, I was not blind for even a moment, here in Nepal I am blind at every moment,” says Gyawali, who visited the US three years ago on an exchange program.
The streets of Kathmandu are bad enough for the sighted, but for the blind it is a nightmare of reckless drivers, haphazard parking, piles of boulders, water pipes, open drainage and potholes.
The 2011 census showed there are 96,000 visually impaired — 0.5% of the population. Nepal introduce the Disability Act 35 years ago, it is signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and in 2012, the government approved accessibility guidelines. All this doesn’t mean much here at street level.
“On paper Nepal has the best policies in South Asia but there is no implementation,” laments Ramesh Pokharel, President of Nepal Association of the Blind (NAB) who fractured his left arm and tore an ankle ligament when he fell 3m down an open drain on his way to school in Pokhara. He was hospitalised for 45 days after which he went to the municipality to ask it to cover the drain. Nothing happened.