Delhi: A city off limits for the differently-abled

AT HOME: Few changes to make life a bit easier

Having lived in the same house in south Delhi’s Asian Games Village for over three decades, Prof.  Ramanujam has had plenty of time to make numerous and necessary changes to make his home disabled-friendly.The doors of the bathrooms have been widened to accommodate a wheelchair and a small slope has been added outside the front door for easy access.Prof. Ramanujam was afflicted by polio in his legs and left arm as a 15-month-old  in Tamil Nadu. He moved with the help of crutches as a child, a makeshift wooden wheelchair as a student, and finally a conventional wheelchair 1993 onwards.


Delhi: A city off limits for the differently-abled

Prof. Ramanujam has been able to make changes to his personal environment to suit his needs, but the outside world is another story.Each morning, he makes his way to the car, where the driver and the guard help him sit inside. The wheelchair is folded up so that it can fit in the boot. Then they drive to the IGNOU campus in Saket, where the Staff Training and Research Institute of Distance Education is situated.During the drive, they pass by several bus stops. Prof. Ramanujam points out why he doesn’t use public transport. The bus stops have symbols of a wheelchair gleaming on the top, but they have no accessibility ramps. The footpaths connected to the bus stops have trees and pillars in the middle, making it impossible for wheelchair-users to navigate the path even if someone were to lift them on to the raised pathways. “There is no application of mind,” he says, referring to the inaccessible bus stops and pavements. When travelling abroad, he says he uses public transport with ease.

IN OFFICE: ‘IGNOU campus better than JNU or DU’

Driving through the IGNOU campus, Prof. Ramanujam counts the ramps and railings that have been installed here over the past 10 years, due to his efforts.At least 20 ramps, big and small, have been added to old buildings that were opened in 1989 as well as those constructed later.The Student’s Service Centre is a relatively new building, complete with a gradual slope and handrail for wheelchair-users.The G. Ram Reddy Block, where Prof. Ramanujam’s office is located, is one of the new buildings.Opened in 2011, a ramp and handrail were part of the original design.As he enters the building with the help of an attendant, Prof. Ramanujam says the campus is “by and large accessible”.

Delhi: A city off limits for the differently-abled

Apart from the wide doors to his office, a wheelchair-accessible toilet has also been added. The washbasin, however, is not at a comfortable height, forcing wheelchair-users to strain to reach the tap.Still, the IGNOU campus does better than other universities in Delhi, says Prof. Ramanujam. For instance, though Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) has made many improvements in making its campus barrier-free in the past five years, he says some changes haven’t been enough. “A special bathroom was made for wheelchair-users. However, the latch to lock the door was on the top and couldn’t be reached. Even in IGNOU, there is a building where the toilet doors can’t be closed if a wheelchair is inside,” he says, adding that Delhi University is the least accessible for wheelchair-users compared to IGNOU and JNU. Toilets need to be at least 4x5 feet to be accessible to a wheelchair and the washbasins have to be lowered for easier access, adds Prof. Ramanujam.

IN THE METRO: A not-so-smooth ride

Of all the public facilities in the Capital, the Delhi Metro is considered the best when it comes to being disabled-friendly.In 2008, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation received a National Award for it.With tactile paths for the visually-impaired, wheelchairs, attendants and reserved seats, Prof. Ramanujam was looking forward to his first ride on the Metro — from Saket to Green Park — on Saturday.Dropped off by a car outside Saket Metro station, Prof. Ramanujam tried to make his way to the elevator.But with the station premises being above road-level and no ramp in sight, the wheelchair had to be lifted onto the pavement.

Delhi: A city off limits for the differently-abled


Then there were the barriers, which proved to be very narrow for a wheelchair to pass through.Once he was helped pass the barriers, Prof. Ramanujam had to wait his turn for the elevator. Meant for the elderly and persons with disabilities, the elevators were instead jampacked by able-bodied commuters.Prof. Ramanujam was twice unable to get in the lift, but succeeded the third time. Once he reached the security checkpoint, however, he couldn’t get past the metal detector as it was on a raised step and too narrow for a wheelchair.It took him 10 to 15 minutes of waiting and some arguing before a CISF personnel helped him out. An attendant then bought a ticket for him and helped him onto the train.A quick ride later, he exited at Green Park, where two attendants were waiting.  Outsid, he still had to reach the road from the pavement. The wheelchair had to be lifted again. According to Prof. Ramanujam, the staff and security personnel seemed to lack training and sensitivity.

OUTSIDE BANK ATMs out of reach

Delhi: A city off limits for the differently-abled

Access to cash became a problem for one and all when ₹500 and ₹1,000 notes were withdrawn by the government in November 2016.The situation was even worse for wheelchair-users, who find banks and ATMs difficult to access even when there is no demonetisation, says Prof. Ramanujam. His account at an ICICI Bank branch in Saket is accessible to him only with the help of a family member.The ramp leading up to the bank is so steep, and without handrails, that it is unusable by a wheelchair-user who is alone. Prof. Ramanujam says he needs assistance for operating his own bank account. The situation is worse at a Punjab National Bank ATM on the IGNOU campus, which has no ramp at all.




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Printable version | Sep 18, 2021 4:09:09 PM |

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