Over the next few weeks, Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL) has a rather important task on hand. It will have to respond to a set of suggestions presented by the Disability Rights Alliance–Tamil Nadu (DRA), indicating which of their recommendations will be incorporated into the facility.
From January this year, DRA — an open, cross-disability collective — has been talking to CMRL regarding the inclusion of features that would ensure easy access to all commuters. After sharing details of international best practices with CMRL in a series of meetings over the past two months, DRA members presented additional inputs on shortcomings in the Delhi Metro to managing director of CMRL K. Rajaraman, on Monday.
Member of the alliance and disability rights activist Rajiv Rajan said features that ensure a barrier-free environment have to be factored in at the planning stage itself. “These are not facilities that can be provided in retrospect. You have to take them into consideration well in advance,” he said.
Observing that most railway stations in Chennai are hardly disabled-friendly, Mr. Rajan said: “Not one station meets all the requirements. Some may have ramps and others, toilets for the disabled. But in my experience, I have found the toilets locked all the time.” No station is an exception — be it MRTS, suburban or even the Central Railway Station.
The CMRL now has a good collection of relevant data, thanks to the documentation efforts of the DRA. The material includes guidelines on making official websites accessible to visual and reading disabilities, on making metro stations barrier-free and a legal perspective to accessibility in public spaces.
Importantly, CMRL now has a chance to learn from the mistakes made in Delhi Metro, which is otherwise considered a good facility. A compilation of access audits carried out at various metro stations in New Delhi point to aspects that the CMRL has to pay attention to. For instance, one such access audit talks of the security clearance area in a metro station in New Delhi where there is not enough space for a wheelchair to pass through.
Persons with disabilities have never had it easy, and railway stations are among the least accessible, according frequent travellers like Erode Nagaraj, the noted mridangam artist. “I often take trains to different towns and cities for concert trips. Each time I go to the station, it is a nightmare. I can't use my wheelchair in most stations,” he said. He also had a harrowing experience with a ticket checking official who cited some “new rules” on renewing his disability certificates and demanded Rs.1,000.
Mr. Nagaraj added: “We see Metro Rail work happening across the city. I don't know how the stations will be. In other trains, one does not expect anything except a big gap between the train and the platform which makes it most inconvenient for people like me.”
CMRL, on its part, has promised to look into the recommendations carefully. Its MD Mr. Rajaraman said: “We are going by international standards as far as trains are concerned. We are fully committed to making stations barrier-free and the points given by the DRA are certainly worthy of consideration.”
Certain aspects, he said, were not covered by the international standards and the CMRL would have to spend time studying them to see how feasible they are.