Saturday, 12 March 2016

Fit any steps design

Throughout the past few `music seasons' in Chennai, I did not go to a single music concert although I am a `patron member' of the Music Academy and get sent a season ticket - for the simple reason of access problems. This year, my sister-in-law was bent on making a change in this self-denial programme. What she did was to find one venue which was accessible to me and my wheelchair. When we drove into the parking lot, I saw the inevitable two steps at the entrance. Even as I started getting hot under the collar, I saw her come with a couple of guys carrying this brilliantly crafted and ingeniously designed ramp,  yet so elementary an idea and easily and economically made. I thought this is the solution India has been waiting for.
The answer to our problems?
You will know why I am getting so excited by something looking so common and simple only when you realise the staggering number of people in India who think an inaccessible place becomes accessible if one puts a plank of wood on a flight of steps - even if it means a gradient of 1:1! I have been stupid enough once to go down down such an incline, and I thought that was curtains for me. Even last week, a colleague (one without any disabilities) told me of such an impossible ramp at a premier research institute in Chennai (not mine, but one I have referred to as a `sister institute' in an old post in this blog. Maybe Pramath, Sundar or Alok can teach some basics of access to the administrators? The internationally accepted standard for ramps is a minimum of 1:12!) While this may not work in an auditorium with a long flight of steps, it is certainly what the doctor ordered for a majority of commercial establishments which typically have anywhere between one and five steps from the pavement to the entrance.

What is attractive about this design is that it allows for custom-made ramps for just about every conceivable design. Even if a place has three steps of respective heights 4,6 and 2 inches, and width 4, 5 and 2 inches, the design allows for a make-shift ramp with a gradient of 1:12 (thus the base can be (4+6+2)x12 = 144 inches, i.e., 12 ft. wide) and removed immediately after use - rather than a base of 4+5+2 = 11 inches, whisch would not stick out much but could result in broken bones and expensive lawsuits!

On a recent visit to IIT Kanpur where I had been invited to give a talk, I had told my host and friend of more than 30 years now that when I had stayed,  long ago, in their Visitors House (or VH, as it is called by IIT-K folk), I had had a painful fall (fortunately without any long term ill-effects) which could have been avoided if there had been a few shrewdly placed grab-bars; and in response to my request, she arranged for the installing of such bars! But the ramp at the entrance to the VH was of the plank-on-step kind of design. I noticed and pointed out a couple of other places (such as in their auditorium) where there were a few steps which hindered smooth passage of my - indeed any - wheelchair. In response to her query on possible solutions, I showed her this design, and she immediately saw the merits and got a copy of the above photograph and sent it to the person in charge of the appropriate department, who promptly came up to me at breakfast next day to say these shortcomings would be remedied before my next visit to IIT-K.

If only our sister institutes in Chennai would respond as pro-actively!

PS: Can i be so impudent as to suggest to the MSJE that this be considered as (a) a possibility of creating employment for PwD who have some carpentry skills, and (b) make it mandatory on public private buildings to make their frontages measured and a job entrusted with qualified carpenters, preferably as in (a) above, and make themselves accessible at fairly minimal costs?

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