Saturday, 30 December 2017

One step forwards, two steps back

I have been a wheel-chair user since 2010. Consequently the railway, metro and buses in India have been a closed book to me since 2010. The only way I can traval is by cars (private or large taxis like an Innova which will have room to transport my wheelchair and care giver). Or I can fly on our airlines, fervently hoping that my (motorised) wheelchair will safely make it to my destination without its battery having been at the receiving end of a hatchet job by airport security personnel.

We have been making periodic attempts for several years at making the local metros, buses and roads/pavements accessible, and our successes can be listed on the head of a not particularly fat pin. Recently, some of us got to talk to the DG of CISF and found him very reasonable and amenable as we talked to him about problems we as PWD faced during air travel, the only (and not very cheap!) form of travel that is usable by us some of the time. I'd like to believe this catalysed two meetings of the big brass in the business of air travel, security, etc. After the last one, Nipun Malhotra posted on fb that he was now able to travel all the way sitting in his wheelchair, and I confirmed with him that I should not have a problem doing the same thing with mine.

On the other hand, the last of these Delhi meetings with accessible noises was held on Nov. 22, and not even four weeks later, a computer scientist friend of mine was prevented by the Air India ground staff from boarding a flight from Bengaluru to Delhi citing security concerns allegedly stemming from his battery-operated wheelchair. Mr. O.P. Singh, can you please have your rules, about carrying one's own wheelchair on our planes, uniformly and universally available? Among the security personnel of an airline/airport I have seen, I must have heard more than a 100 different and original interpretations of the rules concerning motorised wheelchairs. Will you please help remove this ever-threatening sword of Damocles hanging over wheelchair users trying to fly in our skies.

Although private airlines have also been guilty of making things difficult for PWD (eg, the famous Spicejet vs. Jeeja Ghosh incide, and even Indigo of late, which I tend to use because I felt they were disabled-friendly, it is our National Carrier that never fails to surprise me in their rudeness/disabled-unfriendliness. A classic instance of this is when an ex-Air Force pilot who lost his legs in an accident went on AI for a meeting in Singapore, only to discover to his horror that AI could not find his wheelchair when they got to Singapore, and they offered him no help in acquiring a wheelchair for temporary use. Unfortunately, when anybody's work related travel is funded by Govt. sources, there is a GO that such travel must be on AI. I suppose this is one (only?) way of keeping AI afloat! 

Just as they fixed Kaushik Majumdar on his way from his base in Bengaluru to Kolkata, they did such a hatchet job on my wheelchair on my Hyderabad-Chennai flight while returning from the International Congress of Mathematicians held at Hyderabad. All the wires connected to the battery had been systematically yanked out. As this was discovered in Chennai where this wheelchair had been made, I could have the damage rectified quickly. Since that day, I have never flown AI. 

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