Friday, 26 June 2015

Being optimistic in spite of so many misses is what makes PwD survive

We at the `Disability Rights Alliance' (DRA) have been trying to work with the Chennai Metro Rail for more than two years, trying to ensure that at least this mode of public transport might possibly try to make sure to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities. For example, I have an email dated Jan 1, 2013, addressed to a CMRL official where I try to describe a very dispiriting recce made by two of us from DRA of the CMBT CMRL which, according to the Hindu of Dec.18, 2012, was one of two stations whose structures were then complete. This is what I said in that email:

It appears that (the Hindu's report notwithstanding),the station is likely to become operational only around September. We asked the people at the site if we could look at the drawings and check out such details as dimensions of elevators, toilets for the disabled, gradients of ramps, etc.

Unfortunately, the drawings we could see did not have many of these details. I wonder if it will be possible for you to send us an e-copy of the latest drawings, complete with all details. In fact, some details such as dimensions and specifications - right down to flooring slip resistance, lighting lumens etc, would be appreciated.

(DRA’s requests (as expressed from the start) were

   - Progress update on recommendations submitted so far
   - Transparency in sharing information to enable accurate inputs with the   group, or the appointment of an Accessibility Consultant to ensure the same.   
- Disclosure to the public on what accessibility features will be   present / possible, and workaround suggestions for what will be   inaccessible so that the common passenger knows what to expect.
   - Enable disabled citizens of this State to be apprised of CMRL progress   by making its website compliant as per GIGW / WCAG 2 guidelines.
   - Ensure as far as possible, the following accessibility features as   best practice / compliance : as outlined by ACCESS FOR ALL - Best   Practices <>
   - Tactile tiles on all common passages with tactile warnings for abrupt   change in height or near hazardous areas for visually impaired
   - Signs printed in braille in the lifts to indicate floors as well as   visual / audible announcements
   - Elevator control buttons with braille  positioned at heights that are   accessible to wheelchair users
   - Grip rails on 3 walls of the elevator car at a height between   850-900mm.
   - Wide doors for lifts The lift door must have an ideal width of at   least 900 mm and an ideal surface area of  1800mm x 1200mm
   - The ticket counter maximum height limit to be restricted to 800mm to   be accessible to wheelchair users.
   - Ticket checking machine placement should allow wheelchair user passage   or there should be some alternative entry & exit for wheelchair users.
   - Accessible toilet
   - Adequately lit, non-slip flooring with ramps at the entrance of every   station (maximum slope 1:12)
   - Adequate landing space at the start and end of every ramp
   - Simple, uniform terminal design avoiding glossy surfaces / glass, and   standardised pictobraille signage for people with cognitive difficulty
   - Steps with contrast coloured nosing
   - Handrails must be placed at height between 850-900 mm on both sides of   staircase & ramp.
   - The height of the drinking water tap should be at a height less than   900mm.
   - Gap between platform and rail car should enable  a wheelchair user or   a person with a mobility device to enter and exit the train safely and   independently as far as possible.
   - Barriers between rail cars to alert customers who are blind or have   low vision of the space between the rail cars so they do not mistake this   space for the door to the inside of the rail car.
   - Bumpy tiles to alert customers who are blind or have low vision that   they are nearing the edge of the platform
   - Induction loops at ticket counters for hearing impaired passengers
   - Out of service elevator alert system)

I, for my part, would like to make two specific requests/recommendations:

(i) Can you please appoint an Accessibility consultant (such as Shivani Gupta of AccessAbulity, who is herself wheelchair-bound,  in whose competence/sensitivity almost every disabled person would have total confidence) to ensure that our various concerns will be safeguarded?

(ii) or if (i) is not feasible for some reason, can you please provide us with an itemised list of how the various issues discussed in the attachment Accessibility-Inputs-For-Chennai-Metro-Rail.pdf have been addressed by CMRL?

And we have been trying ever since to pin one of those officials down to meeting with us and reassure with plans that met international accessibility standards ... and trying ... and trying!

Two-and-a-half years later, yet another member of DRA finally managed, after what must have been a record number of phone-calls and emails, to extract a promise that several officials of CMRL would meet with a bunch of us this Wednesday (24/06/15) at 4 pm. We were all excited that we would finally have a chance to talk to them and get some details before the metro becomes operational - since it is so expensive to retrofit something that has already been constructed with serious drawbacks in its plans. 

We then get an email sent by another of our colleagues - at 12.25 on Wednesday - that she had just received a phone call from the CMRL office to tell her that Due to some urgent calls by the Government the entire team had to do an urgent inspection and report of all the stations. They have rescheduled the meeting for after the 5th of July. None of the larger team that was a part of our earlier meeting will be available today.

Now we learn the reason for the sudden cancellation: Clear of by-poll, CM may launch the metro on Sunday, yesterday's newspapers announced. So, as usual, we can only hope they got it right. In spite of multiple requests that access audits be performed in advance, preferably by an access expert who is herself a PwD, such requests are treated as mindless baying in the wind, and they continue to make mistakes - and retro-fitting, being prohibitively expensive, will never be considered - so that would be yet another opportunity lost.

I guess I must take heart from the great democratic tradition in India: even people without disabilities run the same risk!

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