Monday, April 18, 2011

Air Travel with my Electric Wheelchair

I started using an electric wheelchair nearly 3 years ago. Over time it has changed my output, my independence, my social life, in other word it has changed my life for the better. For two years I used my electric chair only in and around home as electric wheelchairs are heavy and not always folding making them difficult to transport in a regular car.

Just a couple of months back I decided to travel with it to Spain. This was the first time when I took my chair by flight. I had no idea how it was all going to work out with the airlines but considering it was international travel, I knew it would be fine. Sure it did work out well and I am glad I decided to travel in it because air travel was convenient and to top it I used it in train as well as taxi travel. I other words I did not need to shift out of my chair at all while in Spain. This trip gave me a lot of confidence about traveling with my electric wheelchair.

Next it was time to try travelling with the electric wheelchair within India. On one occasion when I was going to travel by Spice Jet, they refused to carry the chair if it did not fold.  Another time while I was flying Jet lite the budget airline owned by Jet Airways, they were most comfortable carrying my non-foldable 60kg electric wheelchair. The only thing they wanted to ensure was that my chair had dry batteries. It was easy and my chair reached the destination undamaged.  I was impressed by the Jet Airways and defiantly know that Spice Jet and Indigo are not the best airlines for disabled travels.

Following the enactment of the Civil Aviation Requirement for Carriage of disabled people, the only two notable benefits that I can see is 1. As a disabled person I can refuse to sign an indemnity form that frees the airlines from the same commitments it has towards a disabled person as it has for all other passengers and 2. My being able to carry my electric wheelchair easily on a budget airline even if it is on one airline.

Shivani Gupta

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Dinner at Chokhi Dhani , Jaipur

I was visiting Jaipur for work. I had some free time at hand so decided to visit the famous Choki Dhani. I had been to Jaipur several times before but somehow never got the opportunity to visit this village fair. I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was one could eat authentic Rajasthan cuisine here.

As I wheeled into the big royal looking gates over a bumpy cobble stone passage, there were these young chirpy girls dressed in Rajasthani clothes, who came giggling towards us carrying a tray with rose petals and tikka. They put a tikka on my forehead something I hadn’t for so long. It somehow made me feel very special. I wonder why…

Anyhow my bumpy ride continued till the person selling entry tickets and dinner coupons. Dressed as a traditional muneemji , he sat behind a wooden trunk on a platform surrounded by a number of visitors buying tickets. I waited patiently till my chance came. Sitting on my wheelchair I was not as high as him and knew that I would need to be a little aggressive to get my tickets.

Just as I extended my hand with the money and craned my neck up to talk to him three sardaar men came and stood right in front of me blocking me out completely. I was irritated. It was like I did not exist. I revolted and said that I was in the queue before them, but that didn’t seem to matter. This kind of uncouth rudeness is probably only possible in India. I was irritated, angry and saw myself categorizing all men into being shameless, cheap, effeminate species. Suddenly all my excitement seemed to vanish.

In any case I got me tickets next and wheeled towards entrance grumbling. There was a metal detector I needed to wheel through which was very narrow but just about broad enough to let my chair pass. Thank god for that because this was the only entrance they had – there wasn’t an alternate route. After my recent experience with the sardaars I was all ready to pick up a big fight though had my chair not passed through.

I was in. The atmosphere was full fun, happiness and laughter’s of so many families that were there. Children enjoying the camel and elephant rides, adults enjoying the puppet show, dances, folk songs etc. There was a lot of festivity all around. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves.

I wheeled around the village. Looking at the various stall like areas that had been built in a large uneven muddy ground. I just wheeled a little before I tired out pushing myself on that ground. I really wished that the ground was firm and even or the Choki Dhani authorities had some electric wheelchairs that one could borrow.

I knew it wasn’t going to be possible for me to actually enjoy the village, so I decided to go and eat the ‘Royal Thali’ instead. The Chaupad – the dinning area was a step up on a open courtyard kind of area. It was communal eating where everyone sat on the floor and ate out of leaf plates placed on a choki. The whole ambience was fascinating. Men dressed in traditional dresses speaking in Rajasthani served everyone. They had a style of serving that made you eat and eat and eat the large number of dishes that were served one after another. The food was delicious and not too spicy contrary to ethnic Rajasthni food. It had been adapted to suit all pallets.

I of course could not sit on the floor. I requested them for a table, but what I got instead was three choki’s placed one on top of the other to get the leaf thali up to my height. While I sat awkwardly trying to eat from the thali but the delicious taste of food was worth the uncomfortable perch I had.

The food seemed to have washed away the bad flavor of the three sardaars at the ticket counter and the discomfort I faced due to inaccessibility. All in all I’d say the Chokhi Dhani is a must visit place if you are I Jaipur and when it comes to accessibility –it is not the most accessible place, but then lets just say that I’ve seen worse!

Shivani Gupta

Friday, April 8, 2011

Delhi Metro

The New Gurgaon Line

Most stations are built on a typical design. The way a disabled person uses these stations is by a lift from the road level to get to the station level and then another lift from the station level to the train line level. Except the Qutub Minar that has a ramp to the station level station and the HUDA City Centre stations which is at road level.

Facilities provided are all at the station level and these include
• The ticket counter
• Security check
• Entrance gate
• Customer Care office
• Exit gate
• Toilets including accessible toilets

Apart from this all stations have a parking available within walking distance from the entrance stairs

Main issues

• There are ramps provided from the road level till the lift landings (lifts leading to the station level) except in the Qutub
Minar station the ramp leads to the station itself. These ramps are designed to no specifications and therefore are mostly very steep and at places also lack handrails. Some of these ramps are far to steep to be used safely example – MG Road station.
• The ticket counter is behind a glass screen without a loop induction or a sound amplification system hence making it difficult for hearing impaired persons to communicate. Passes are to be purchased from the customer care office, that to has glass on the counter. Additionally it is difficult for a first time user to know where to go to buy passes as it is not clearly signed.
• The security gates are narrow that do not allow a wheelchair to pass. Therefore in all the stations that we entered the wheelchair user along with a helper were not checked by security personal.
• There is a wider entrance gate that is to be used by users on wheelchairs, but in spite of having this provision a disabled passenger is required to take assistance from their staff as this is always barricaded. At some stations the wheelchair user passenger is separated out and made to enter from a different gate that has to be unlocked especially for them.
• The train has a gap from the platform. The gap varies and is larger at some stations. Additionally there is also a level difference between the platform and the train floor at some stations. This makes boarding and exiting out dangerous for most disabled persons. In fact during our trip the front wheel of my wheelchair also got struck in-between the platform and the train.
• There are tactile guiding blocks that are used throughout internally in the station. There were points where this guiding path was blocked hence becoming a barrier for visually impaired persons. It will make an interesting study to know how many blind users actually find the tactile paving beneficial.
• While exiting out disabled passenger especially a wheelchair user is made to exit from the entrance gate, again requiring addition ‘special’ assistance.
• The toilets and the lift are outside the exit gate therefore if a disabled passenger wants to use the toilet or the lift would need to travel a long distance to reach it, having made to exit from the entrance gate. This is contrary to and accessible design planning where travel distance of disabled people is kept to the minimum.
• There are earmarked accessible toilet facility provided at each station apart from the ladies and gents facilities, but unfortunately in the way fittings are put in the accessible toilet, they are not usable by disabled people. Moreover the accessible facility is not maintained and often even kept locked.
• The biggest blunder that I see on this line (I haven’t seen any other line) is the parking that is provided for the metro users in five out of ten stations is across the road. The entrance from the parking is only by steps. Therefore for a disabled user (wheelchair user especially) who may need the parking facility to be accessible more than any other user, does not have access to it. Additionally it is discriminatory when two entrances are provided to all users but only one entrance is available to disabled users.

Important issues that were not answered clearly by the PRO
• What is the procedure that they adopt to assist disabled passengers incase the lifts is not working. Is there a system where information of lifts that are not working may be available to disabled passengers in advance to save them from making a useless trip.
• Do they have a map or ready information available for disabled passengers to know which entrance is accessible considering not all of them are accessible.
• In case of an emergency what is the system for evacuation of the disabled laid down considering the lifts cannot be used then
• Complaining system – what steps have they taken to ensure that it is accessible to visually impaired persons.
• Are there plans of having accessible feeder buses in the future

Shivani Gupta

My wheelchair is not my identity

I became disabled person when I was 22 years old in a car accident. There was a very marked change in people’s behaviour towards me, and o...