The development in travel & hospitality and Tourisms are two major sectors Government of India is looking forward. These are also undoubtedly high revenue generating and employment creating sectors. Are the fruits of the travel reaching to every Indian citizen including those who have disabilities? Are the tourism spots friendly for tourists with blindness and mobility difficulties? In these two sectors the journey on trains are unavoidable. Making railway stations and the entire train journey accessible is extremely important to include persons with disabilities and elderly take part of the wonderful tourism spots.
As part of Indian budget 2017-2018 Arun jaitly, the union Finance Minister have announced that the Central Government will make 500 railway stations differently-able friendly. I am happy that in entire budget plan shared by the finance minister at least one statement is made that benefits persons with disabilities.
The statement that was made by the Finance Minister is “500 railway stations will be made differently-abled friendly by providing lifts and escalators”.
I wonder will it be sufficient to provide lifts and escalators to make a railway station differently abled friendly? Is the government bothered only about the wheel chair users? Even for them these are not only the areas of consideration at a railway station. Through this article I want to highlight few areas that need reasonable adjustments to make persons with disabilities impacted.
Entering into the railway stations
As any person with disability reaches the railway station a psychological disturbance begins in mind until they come out of the destination railway station. A blind passenger may face difficulty in identifying the entrance gate in the crowded area outside the station. Many stations I have observed have stairs up or down to enter into the railway station. One cannot find a ramp that allows the wheel chair user to safely enter the station. In many cases one cannot find handrails that support passengers who have difficulty in climbing or descending stairs. Once the person enters into the station first thing they have to do is to purchase a ticket. If the person is a traveler they have to take train ticket. In many railway stations the ticket counters are not at proper height and almost all of them does not have adequate space below them for a wheelchair to access the counter independently. For a blind user it is a very tough job. In the noisy environment god knows if the ticket provider in the counter rightly heard what the blind passenger asked for. The ticket provider if repeats the information provided the blind user they confirm that they got the right information else they have to depend on some sighted to get the ticket cross checked. If the person visits the railway station to receive their friends or relatives they have to buy a platform ticket. Interestingly many railway stations have ticket vending machines that allows the users to take a ticket with cash or smart card. The same problems that a wheel chair user encountered at the counter repeats here. For a blind user this is an impossible task. Since these machines are niether voice enabled nor accessible they have to completely depend on the sighted counter parts.
The game just began
Now the passenger has to find the timing of the train and on to which platform the train is going to arrive. The voice announcements are provided on every railway station, but one has to patiently wait for the train you are looking for. The electronic displays are not for blind passengers. I remember many railway stations are providing machines that allows the user to check the train running information ofcourse they are not blind friendly.
Once the passenger find the information they require, they begin the journey towards the platform. Don’t expect lifts or ramps to move between the platforms. The foot over bridges are definitely a hurdle for wheelchair users. I think this is the area the railway ministry is going to look after as per the budget announcement 2017- 18. Lifts are definitely a good option for wheel chair users but in a heavily populated stations number of lifts that are made available is a devatable concept. Though our railway departments quote it for differently abled, these will be useful for elderly, pregnant women and patients travelling. I am not sure how the railway department is going to avoid the usage of these lifts by persons without a disability. Else it will become like a coach provided for differently-abled, mostly used by non-disable community. In addition, I urge the honorable ministry to look after all the possible global standards while building the lifts. I mean the wide doors for a wheelchair to enter, Braille embossment for the physical buttons, voice output, hand railing inside the lift etc.
As I read through many articles over the internet I got to understand that the escalators are not wheelchair friendly. I think most of these are talking about the stair modal. In my research on the very topic I have found that Japan have wheelchair accessible escalators, hope our finance minister is also talking about similar built during the budget as he says specifically for differently-abled friendly.
Once the person climbs over the footover bridge, it will be difficult for a blind passenger to locate the platform where they have to step down. While at Hyderabad, I used to count the passages to reach the 10th platform. If I miss the count I used to step into a wrong platform.
As someone reaches the platform, the most dangerous part arrives. As a blind passenger walks with the white cane in hand, on one side the stalls are placed with seating area , on the other side is the 4 to 5 feed deep rail track, the journey is between. The co-passengers walk in the opposite direction, others walk crossing you, few keep luggage on the way, few stand on the path in a circle and talk on everything under the sky. Unless the blind passenger walk slowly and carefully either they ay bump into the passenger coming opposite or the passenger talking on the path or step over to the luggage. On the other side the deep rail track whose edge does not have raised indication for the white cane to identify the edge. But where is the journey to? Usually to the coach one has to board. Where will the coach positioned? May be at the beginning, at the end or in between who knows? The sighted who can read the electronic board knows, not the blind passenger. Once the train arrives, is the on boarding process a happy path? For a blind passenger, it might be better to certain extend but definitely a great pain for wheelchair users. Usually the wheelchair passenger and wheelchair will be carried by porters. This process is more embarrassing for women passengers.
I am not talking about the conditions in the train for now, but let me point some more inaccessible features of the railway stations in India.
Other areas of concentration
No one know where the toilets are. I have never found an accessible, wheelchair and other physically handicapped friendly toilets.
In the railway stations or on the platforms no seating places are marked or reserved for persons with disabilities.
The water drinking facilities are mostly not wheelchair friendly.
Last one but very important concern is the railway staff is not sensetised towards disability.
I on behalf of crores of Indians with disabilities urge honorable ministry to look into all kinds of problems faced by them not just by overlooking at few touch points.