Is this a City that Cares?

Patriot presents a ground report on how able the capital is to deal with the needs of the differently-abled citizens

On the whole, the Indian society has learnt several lessons to socially accept and absorb the people with various disabilities. The terminology changed, and they are called differently-abled. For the nearly 27 million such people, the physical infrastructure has been made accessible in several areas, which is crucial for them to lead normal lives. Over the past few years, Delhi, being the capital, took the lead to make life better for its over two lakh differently-abled citizens.

Patriot presents a ground report on how able the city is to deal with the needs of such people.

Metro takes the lead

Delhi Metro is perhaps the most-friendly to the differently-abled. It has lifts, wide automatic fare collection gates, wheelchairs, huge displays, and regular announcements to help the riders. The sahayaks (helpers, who are part of the staff) are always ready and willing to help. But it still has scope for improvement.

Let’s start with the entrances: there are ramps on the roads to reach the level of the lifts, but they are too steep in some stations, and without handrails. Not all the gates of each metro station have lifts, which makes it difficult for the physically-impaired to use such stations. A crucial hub like the Rajiv Chowk station, one of the busiest, opens out in several directions. Unfortunately, it has lifts at only two of the eight exits. This shows a lack of application at the planning and design stages, when distance travelled by the differently-abled should be minimum. (Ironically, the country’s Parliament has only one gate, out of 12, that can be used by people in wheelchairs.)

At the metro stations, the ticket counters and customer care offices are behind the glass screens and on a height. Many of them don’t have induction loops or sound amplifiers. Hence, it is difficult for differently-abled to communicate. Frisk gates are too narrow for a wheelchair to pass through. So, the people on them are manually checked or exempted from it. At several stations, the gap between the station edge and the train is too wide, which is dangerous for the visually-impaired and wheelchairs that get stuck. This forces such commuters to depend on the metro staff or fellow travellers.

Swati Saxena, fellow, Chaitanya, told Patriot, “Metros are relatively easier (for differently-abled), but not smooth. I have seen people stare at visually-impaired people. I could never figure out why.” People are also frustrated with the state of the other transportation systems, especially cabs, autos and buses.

Last-mile problems

Cabs and autos have no mechanism to allow the differently-abled to slide in, and are not designed for their convenience. The bus-stops were meant to have slopes at each end to aid wheel-chairs. Those on the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) had them, but they remain unused after the BRT was dismantled. Most of the other bus-stops are still waiting for them. None of them have displays or audio facilities to help those with hearing and eye-sight problems.

The cluster buses, which replaced the private buses, have steps, that restricts the physically-challenged. The state-owned DTC (Delhi Transport Corporation) buses have low floors, and adequate spaces opposite the doors for the wheelchairs. They are installed with ramps; unfortunately, as Patriot found out, only a few bus attendants were aware of the existence of the ramps. In many cases, the ramps were either jammed or not working properly.

Entertainment on hold

Harshit Mathur Bagai, a public relations executive, loves to shop at places that are cheap and best. He says, “I am partially disabled. I still remember how difficult it was to climb up and go down in Palika Bazaar (Connaught Place).” Shrey Marwah is a movie buff, and loves sci-fi. It’s difficult for him to go to a theatre. “Although I manage to use the lifts, it becomes difficult after that. PVR of both Select City Walk and Anupam Saket, and DT Cinemas have stairs to enter the auditoriums.”

The situation is the same in food joints in most of the city’s markets.  Saxena loves the city’s street food, especially the places in Amar Colony (near Moolchand). She complains, “It is extremely difficult or impossible for people with disability to reach there and have a good meal without assistance.” Even foreign chains have no empathy for the differently-abled. Anjlee Agrawal, founder, Samarthyam, says, “MNCs follow the (differently-abled) accessibility codes globally. But in India, they have no fear of being questioned. They know that no one will complain, or take them to court.”

This forces families, who can afford it, to shift abroad. Others have to put their lives on hold. For example, a Delhi-based family recently shifted to the US after the son, Rishabh (name changed) met with a serious accident. Rishabh is bed-ridden, and his mother laments, “I want to come back to India, but my son won’t recover there. There is a lack of infrastructure, even in the capital. Here (in Florida), every building and road is designed keeping the disabled in mind. It says something about the state’s priority. My son’s physiotherapist, who is himself on a wheelchair, has helped my son to stand.”

But Rekha (name changed), a mother of a physically-impaired daughter, isn’t so lucky. She says, “I can’t take my daughter for physiotherapy sessions, nor can I afford private doctors. The government hospitals neither send physiotherapists home nor provide the transport facilities. How much can I afford in a monthly pension of R1,500. If the infrastructure existed, my daughter would have been fine by now.”

Ethics of the Land

– The Disability Bill 2016 and Prime Minister’s Accessible India Campaign stress on ensuring “accessibility in public buildings (both government and private) in a prescribed time-frame”.

– Indian Road Congress IRC 103:2012 mandates universal accessible environment for roads and streets; and the National Building Code 2017 provides standards for built
environment to be universally accessible.

– United Nations’ ‘World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons’ states that a person is
“handicapped when he/she is denied the opportunities generally available in the community that are necessary for the fundamental elements of living.”

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