Pradnya Patel (30) works as a single-window operator at the Bank of Baroda, Vidya Vihar. Though she walks to her bank every morning and takes a rickshaw back, every afternoon, when she visits her friends across Mumbai, she usually takes a local train and preferably hops aboard the women’s coach.
“When women on the platform start running, I sense the direction our coach is in,” says Pradnya. Born with incurable retinitis pigmentosa, which causes severe vision impairment, Pradnya can only perceive a little light around her.
She usually walks on the sides of pedestrian bridges and can recognise turning points. “I find nights most difficult, as I cannot perceive any amount of light,” she says.
The Mumbai suburban railway network has long been the focus of disability activists in the city, whose efforts resulted in the introduction of various measures for the differently-abled. Yet these measures are neither adequate nor available across the city’s railway stations.
Facilities such as ramps at stations, wheelchair access to trains, alarm systems for the visually-impaired, information on routes and fares in Braille, have much to improve upon, if and where they do exist.
The coach for the differently-abled is located in the middle and at the end of the train. In Pradnya’s experience, these coaches are mostly occupied by men.
Talking about the measures taken by the government to assist the differently-abled commuters, she said, “Nowadays, the Western Line has rough flooring on platforms for us to identify the coach for the differently abled. Trains on all lines have beepers next to our compartments.”
However, the compartments on the harbour line are smaller, which makes it congested for these commuters. Moreover, the compartments for the differently abled are unclean, she says.
Rupali Kolambekar (23), another visually-impaired railway commuter of Wadala East, complains that the distance between the platform and the train is too much. Also a Bank of Baroda employee who has recently written her MA exam, she says, “We have to check for the platform with our feet before getting down.”
Pradnya suggests, “There should be a restraining border between the train and the platform to keep the differently abled commuters safe.”
“Earlier, I used to ask people for help, now I have gotten used to it,” adds Rupali. However, even after years of travelling, she feels she still lacks confidence on the trains. A graduate in sociology, Pradnya says that most people do not know how to guide the visually-impaired. “Sometimes, I do not want people to treat me as a blind person. I now know every corner of Dadar station,” she says.