UTTARA RAMAKRISHNAN, an architect, along with Lysha Thomas, a legal intern, look at the periphery of platform no. 2 of Dadar railway station (Central Railway) and mark a cross against a sheet measuring accessibility of railway platforms for persons with disabilities. “The edge of the platform is supposed to carry grated tiles enabling people with visual disability to know that they have approached the periphery of the platform and walk away from the edge,” Uttara explains. Like this ‘circulation list’, there is ‘ticketing list’, ‘platform list’, ‘parking list’ and ‘toilet list’ that rates platforms on various factors vis-à-vis their accessibility to commuters facing disabilities.
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Like this team, there is another team of an architect and two legal interns at Kurla railway station who are carrying out a similar exercise. This audit was agreed to by the railways following a Public Interest Litigation filed before the Bombay High Court by Indian Centre of Human Rights and Law to make railway stations more accessible to people with disabilities. Between November and December, the teams will conduct the audits at around 100 railway stations and submit the final report that will include recommendations on the same before the court.
Abraham Chandapillai, a lawyer and volunteer helping with the audit, said the first step in carrying out the audit is to draw a map of railway stations. “We draw the railway entrances, islands (comprising of two platforms on either end), railway tracks and toilets. Based on accessibility guidelines, we have created lists of facilities that these railway stations should be having to make them disabled friendly. Armed with these lists teams of three people go to various railway stations and depending on what they see, they mark it out,” Chandapillai said.
Saugata Hazra, a lawyer also involved in the project said, “Their idea of making things disabled friendly is to install escalators. How will a person on a wheelchair use it? Currently railway stations are only 30 per cent accessible for people with disabilities.”
Hazra, who suffers from cerebral palsy making it difficult for him to walk, recalled an incident to highlight the poor conditions of the railways. “I was at Bombay Central railway station to take a train for Delhi a few months back. I asked for a wheelchair since I did not want to delay others. They got a wheelchair that did not have any foot rest. When I pointed out they said they will tie a thread in the foot rest area and I could balance my legs there,” Hazra said. “After I protested, they got me a trolley meant for goods and told me to lie down on top,” he added.
Around 1pm, Hazra and Abraham join Uttara along with her two colleagues and they go around the Dadar railway station. “On platform number 1 they find that coaches meant to house people with disabilities, do not stop near the handicap board on the platforms. “In certain cases, the beepers — that make beeping sounds helping people with visual disability to know where the coach will come — are not working. Any error in location of the beeper could point a person with visual disability to the shaft between two coaches. It could have lethal consequences,” said Lysha.
There are exceptions like railway platform no 1 (western line) where tiles on the railway stations are placed in such a way that a person with visual disability can use them to head to the platform he/she wants to and get to the coach without needing to ask anyone. “However, yesterday when a girl tried using that, there were many hindrances in between because of which she had to stop and ask for directions,” Abraham says. The steps leading from platform no 1 to the public bridge is the next area under scrutiny. After scrutinizing the steps, where there are no raised edges; the eastern exit of the Dadar railway public bridge does not have a railing, they find that the ticket booking counters are too high making it inaccessible for someone on a wheelchair.
“We are not expecting any major structural overhauls. We know certain changes are not possible. All we want is for the railways to be earnest in helping those with disabilities and making changes that are possible to make railways accessible for everyone,” Hazra said.