Facilities planned to ease access include exclusive seats, audio announcements, Braille facilities and clear signage

Any new transit system carries with it huge expectations. These would fizzle out if it fails to create an inclusive environment for the disabled.

Chennai Metro Rail, which is all set to become operational in a few months, has chalked out an extensive plan to make stations easily accessible for the disabled.

With exclusive seats for the physically challenged, non-slippery floors, audio announcements, Braille facilities and clear signage in stations, the Metro will be fully equipped to provide ease accessibility for the disabled, say officials.

“The stations will also have staircases with contrast colouring for people with low vision, ticket counters at a convenient height for the disabled, accessible doors and even parking space for wheelchairs,” says an official of Chennai Metro Rail.

But they seem to have missed out on the crucial aspect of holding detailed discussions with the disabled.

Earlier, members of the Disability Rights Alliance had expressed displeasure over officials failing to share the plans in detail.

“People without disabilities decide what the disabled would be comfortable with. How is this even done” asks S. Krishnaswamy, advisor to the Ability Foundation.

One thing to be ascertained is the usability of the ramps at stations.

In many places, they are too steep, making it difficult for the physically challenged to use them, he says.

“They should work closely with the disabled to ensure that it is convenient for them. For instance in the case of ramps, they could make a sample, show it to them and see if it works,” he adds.

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It is a familiar sight at stations across the city’s rail network: disabled people struggle to climb up a flight of steps or locate the compartment they need to board.

The absence of precise announcements over a public address system, while inconveniencing everyone, affects the disabled much more. Platforms are designed in a manner that is not entirely disabled-friendly.

The death of a visually impaired man at a station along Mass Rapid Transit System six months ago is proof that the city and the suburban railway network are not disabled- friendly.

G. Kannan, who suffers from orthopaedic impairment and is a resident of Medavakkam, says that it is a daily battle that every disabled person faces from the moment they leave their home for work till they return.

“I do not see any special provision to make life easier for us,” he says.

“The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007 had called for ensuring that people with disabilities using modes of public transportat are not at a disadvantage. But there has been no improvement to ensure easy access for the disabled,” sums up S. Namburajan, State secretary of the TN Association for the Rights of All Types of Differently Abled and Caregivers.

He adds that railway platforms lack tactile paving — a special method of laying tiles that will make it easy for the visually impaired to find their way.

In the absence of signage, visually impaired persons are the worst affected and many end up missing trains, especially during rush hours.

All important stations should have escalators, like those in Tambaram and Egmore, adds Mr. Namburajan.

(Reporting by Sunitha Sekar and K. Manikandan)

chennaidesk@thehindu.co.in

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