Saturday, 4 July 2015

Eternal optimism vs. refusal to accept reality

We finally got to do our much-advertised access audit of CMRL; as the theme-song of `Love Story' goes, `where do I begin, to tell the story...'? One short interlude towards the end of this evening best describes the string of disappointments in store for us. An architect, no doubt working with CMRL, had been accompanying us, most likely charged with the task of humouring us and making sure nobody fell into the tracks! At one point, more than two hours into the exercise, he made this suggestion to Vaishnavi (who, incidentally, was the person with whom I made my initial visit to the Koyambedu CMRL, which I wrote about in my last post in this blog): "It would help if you give  us any international standards /guidelines you may have access to". Vaishnavi glared at him and asked `who, rather, what, are you? " He said "I am an architect" with a touch of annoyance. Vaishnavi digested this slowly and said "I should shoot you" before going on to give the startled chap a brief survey of the story chronicled in my last blog, on how we had been begging the CMRL for close to three years to look at the various documents we had been repeatedly sending them!

Rather than boring you with a blow-by-blow description of the evening, let me simply mention the more glaring goofs.

* When the train comes to the platform, there is a non-trivial gap between the rake and the platform - so much in fact that the little front wheels of manually operated wheelchairs run a serious and dangerous risk of slipping into the gap if, by chance, it rotates through 90 degrees, as is likely when it attempts to navigate the 2-3 inch height difference between the platform and the floor of the train.

The gap

* In order to avoid the danger described above, it becomes necessary to turn around and reverse into the train, as the front wheel is large and runs no such danger; but this means propelling oneself up and backwards to get into the train. Given that the train doors are open only for half a minute, and that there are likely to be some fifty or more other `normal' people pushing every one and thing in the way in order to to get into the train, all this is not very encouraging to the wheelchair user.

* To add spice to the exercise, there is a Trishul-shaped object bang in the middle between the doors on either side of the train, intended for people to hang on to, which one should manoeuvre around, and find something to hang on to. There is nothing like a seat belt which one can lock one's wheelchair to.

* The ticket counters are not low enough for use by people in a wheelchair. To make matters worse, you cannot buy  return ticket for A-B-A. When we finally got to `B' (which was Koyambedu for us), I needed to use a toilet. A helpful samaritan told me there were toilets at both `concourse' and `platform' levels, while we needed to go the `concourse' level to buy tickets to get back to A' (Alandur). And there was no sign at platform level as to where one may find the elusive toilets.

* So I go down to the Concourse level; and the first problem was getting past the turnstile. As our group had got separated when we boarded the train at Alandur, we had stopped at an intemediate station, to get into a later train they must all be coming on. And then, I learnt you should complete the travel from A to B within prescribed time-limits. So when I inserted my token in the turnstile, it wouldn't open. I would have learnt the reason for this if my wheelchair had been a few feet taller, when I would have been able to see a red light flashing and a sign explaining why it was flashing. One of the people who was `escorting' me told me this as also where I should go to pay the excess fine of some Rs. 10 in order to get through.

* By now, I am ready to use that toilet, and am directed to a `Gents' toilet, which is clearly not accessible. When I find no signs which may give me a clue, I ask somebody who tells me the only disabled friendly toilet is on the platform level! Meanwhile, I've got to go! So I go to the gents' toilet, and find, on opening the door, that I have to walk across a room which has two wash basins and water all over the floor, which I need to gingerly negotiate before going to the room with the WC.

* After all this, and rubbing my wet hands on my jeans rather than use the unappetising towel next to the wash-basin, I bought my ticket to Alandur prior to ascending to the platform level and joining my fridnds.

And could not get home soon enough, to lick my wounds after this throughly demoralising experience best descaribed by the architect-Vaishnavi conversation mentioned early on.