Saturday, 27 July 2013

Welcome home

I am just on the verge of winding up my two-month sojourn in USA/Canada where I have been savouring the benefits of living in a society that makes some effort to render its infrastructure accessible. I had made some noises during these past weeks about even these societies not being quite perfect in their attempts to be inclusive.

But now as I prepare to return to India, I must prepare myself to come down to earth with a THUD and return to the insensitivity and non-inclusive attitudes of the powers that be. The editorial in today's Hindu did that in as fast and ungentle a manner as can be imagined. The move by the Vice Chancellor of IGNOU to essentially shut down one of the few avenues available to bring the hearing impaired into the functioning of the rest of the world is abhorrent and has no place in a responsible democracy.

Cribbing about not having a few ramps to access the few reataurants or shops that do not conform to the generally accessible infrastructure of the North American continent, while the Indian subcontinent is taking active measures to render itself non-inclusive seems almost akin to Nero's fiddling amidst the burning ruins. The editorial in Hindu was a gentle reminder that my holiday from grim reality was over and that it is time to return to the (Indian) drawing board, with a recharged will to struggle for the minimal gains one can hope to glean from an exceptionally recalcitrant environment/administration.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Same old plea – but in a new place

I have been having a great time for the past few weeks in Toronto, attending a math conference at the Fields Institute located more or less in the University of Toronto. This is almost a month-long extravaganza for people like me who like to spend the day listening to talks or having discussions about such fun things as random matrices and free probability. The reason for my mentioning this is that this is why I have been somewhat irregular with my blog of late (due to having to give talks periodically to justify my presence here! 

But am straying from my theme. I have been using rented mobility scooters to take me across the few city blocks I need to cross during the day. The institute itself has been wonderfully accessible and I have had no woes on that count.

But it is in the evening when we want to go and see shops or enter restaurants/cafes/bars that I have been periodically accosted by my old nemesis – a step or two or three, as the case may be. The point I am trying to make is one I have made in India. In particular, I wish to make a suggestion to the Canadian readers of my blog who, I am glad to report, are on the increase of late. Exactly as I said in an earlier post in this blog (namely, it is entirely trivial to have a make-shift ramp that can be pulled up and used whenever needed for a wheel-chair user. While it is true that everybody is most willing to help – by lifting my scooter up the step(s) after I had hobbled off and climbed the step(s) to get indoors – I repeat that the whole aim of making roads and pavements accessible is to make mobility-impaired people totally independent, or as close to that as is possible. And I should stress that I have been very impressed by the number of people whom I see whizzing along on such scooters on the pavements of this city. For their sake – and especially for those among them who will not be able to get off their scooter and walk the few steps necessary to climb a step or two – I am writing this post in the hope that somebody in a position to implement such changes will read this post and do so!

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Boor on Bloor

During the first week of my stay in Canada, I was witness to one of the most disgusting displays of insensitive behaviour it has been my misfortune to have witnessed. My wife and I had gone out to dinner with these friends of mine (also Indian). We must already have raised a few eyebrows as we went down the street where my hotel was located, with me on my small mobility scooter, and the (fairly evidently autistic) son of our friends, as he kept making a continuous string of noises; when they got too loud and people around started to look uncomfortably at him, the father of the lad made appropriate soothing comments to him which would result in at least a temporary reduction in the decibel level of his soliloquy.

Anyway, we eventually made our way to a Chinese/Thai restaurant on Bloor Street, after the boy's mother had first taken care to ensure that they would not mind if she brought in some french fries for him to eat (this being one of the few dishes he could be counted on to eat). Anyway, the staff at the restaraunt had set out some of those disposable chop-sticks, fondly hoping that at least some of us would eat with them. I myself tried gamely for a while before the mechanics of eating rice with them finally made me accept defeat. This boy Karun had, meanwhile, found a more original use for them – using them on his plate not unlike a drummer uses his drum-sticks on his drums.

Suddenly, our little dinner party was rudely jolted by this beefy white guy at the next table leaning over to tap Karun on his back and say`Hey, stop that noise'. Karun's mother gently asked him if something was the problem, and he said `yeah, he is bothering me!' So she asked Karun to stop – which he did – and explained to us that Karun should also realise that h can't always do what he wants to do!

But my take on the scene we had seen was different. Anybody who had been hearing the sounds emanating from Karun for some time – and this guy had been sitting at the next table for a good ten minutes before he erupted – should surely have been able to surmise that Karun's behaviour was the result of some problem as against just poor bringing up! In fact, if he hadn't lived all his life in a cave by himself in the fifty-odd years of his life, the word `Asperger' must have occurred to him, and a little consideration for the parents of the lad would have stopped him from behaving like the Boor of Bloor Street.

Monday, 1 July 2013

But the people are sensitive

My last two posts about my travels (travails?) in the US have not been so complimentary. However I would be unfair to my hosts if I did not comment on the many positives one sees here and contemplate ruefully on how far behind we in India (as well as most of the world, I would imagine) are. Let me comment on one fact I learnt as well as one personal experience.

First, `the ride' I learnt about, when I was in Boston; THE RIDE paratransit service provides door-to door, shared-ride transportation to eligible people who cannot use fixed-route transit (bus, subway, trolley) all or some of the time because of a physical, cognitive or mental disability.

Just imagine making a call around because you want to catch a bus at 7, and having the public transport system arrange to come and pick you up at your home about 6 and take you to the bus stop and put you on the bus! (See You can see how many centuries behind we in India are!

`My personal experience' concerns a bus ride I had to take from New ork ity to Massachusetts. We had chosen to go by bus because this cost under $20 while the train cost more than $150. In view of the necessarily no frills nature of the bus operation, there was no big bus stop with seats to wait on; instead the buses stopped by the pavement, and people waited patiently for their bus to come. But there had been some misunderstanding about when our bus was due. We realised that we had been issued tickets for the wrong day, and that we had a couple of hours for the next bus, on which we were able to get tickets. When this came to the knowledge of the administrators of the bus company, who were a bunch of African Americans (or black people as they were called before the current `politically correct lingo' came into effect) who were cherfully doing their jobs, directing people to the appropriate place to go. The one who seemed to be the chief there, was sitting on the only available stool there. When he saw my discomort/pain, he immediately and sweetly offered his seat to me, and asked me to sit there till our bus came, when he would put us in first and let us choose the seat most comfortable among those available.