DESPITE the state governments stringent guidelines to ensure the physically challenged have access to basic infrastructure facilities,a recent accident has brought to fore how even plush showrooms in the city blatantly disregard these norms.
Earlier this month,Malini Chib,47,who suffers from cerebral palsy,had gone to Westside at Fort. She wanted to visit the womens apparel section on the first floor. With no elevator or a ramp,she and her friend took the escalator. Both met with an accident,with Chib suffering cuts and bruises on her shoulder,waist and arms. Her friend suffered back injury.
In all accessibility guidelines,it is a rule that staircases be located adjacent to the escalator if that is the primary means of transport between floors. It may also be necessary to provide an elevator next to an escalator for wheelchairs and disabled people, said Chibs mother Mithu Alur,who is the founder-chairperson of Spastics Society of India (now known as ADAPT).
Since none of these facilities was available,Malini was forced to use the escalator. Westsides callous attitude is only a reflection of other buildings in south Mumbai. While making money,these stores should also think of client welfare, Alur said.
A Westside spokesperson said,Our stores are located inside malls,which are better equipped with facilities for the disabled. The store at Kala Ghoda is housed in a heritage building. We will consult with our advisors on how we can accommodate the right facilities.
Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee chairman V Ranganathan said it is not difficult to make alterations inside heritage buildings. If and when they make an application to the heritage committee,we will fast-track it on humanitarian grounds, he said.
According to the 1995 Persons with Disability Act,all public places should be accessible to people with disabilities,including those on wheelchairs.
Abhishek Ray,founder of Disability Research and Design Foundation,said,Westside is a two-storey store serviced with an escalator which is used to go to the upper floor and the descent is managed through a parallel staircase. This in my view is a design oversight as people with special needs cannot be accommodated on an escalator,let alone a staircase, he said. An internal elevator platform can be added on the floor plate at a desirable location to ensure there is accessibility for everyone,he added.
Alur said her organisation had taken up the issue with Westside earlier,too. ADAPT had written to the retail chain explaining the law and advising them how they can make the Kala Ghoda store more disabled-friendly.