Guest Post by REKHA REVATHY
A so-called normal person may sometimes wonder how blind people like myself travel to work or move about in other public places like railway stations, bus stands, airports and roads. Large numbers of blind people also travel as commuters in metro trains in Mumbai as well as in buses and local trains, autorikshaws and other transport. They face many difficulties, big and small, in their travel. Some are comfortable with their daily commuting because they have adjusted to the conditions which they have endured for long. Some blind people always take the help of an escort during such travels. But finding an escort daily is not easy and also, what if a blind person depends on his/her colleague in office or a friend to travel to school or work daily, if on any day that colleague or friend is not able to come, then he/she becomes helpless. And in such situations they will be put to a new challenge of reaching their destination in time by themselves. And of course, moving to a different place or a new place is much more difficult for a blind person.
Moving about at the work place is less challenging than traveling in buses or trains for the blind, although there are still difficulties like climbing the stairs, locating their seats, keeping things in their place, going to the dining room, using the wash room and so on. But there are blind people who do all these things without any sighted help because they have adapted to their environment. But it also takes some time. Any changes made in the premises puts them in confusion – changes such as construction of a new counter, changing the positions of chairs tables etc, fitting of a new door or changing the positions of water jars. It is also a fact that blind people cannot always find a person to help them out in their work places. And sometimes they end up injuring themselves.
Some blind people say that use of a cane does not always solve their issues. Using canes helps them to a certain extent. It gives them a sign of identification. Some people will help them in crossing roads or help them to avoid hitting things like branches of trees, boards etc. But as everybody is busy, and in a hurry to reach their respective places, and so sometimes blind people may not get such assistance.
Finding a ticket counter in railway stations or buses in bus stands is often very difficult. In the absence of escorts, blind people have to take help from different people for finishing all their requirements. Sometimes a blind person has to communicate to a minimum of 3 to 4 persons to meet a single need. This kind of asking for help will become more difficult if the needy is a blind woman. Traveling alone for a woman is difficult even under ‘normal’ circumstances, then it is imaginable how difficult a blind woman’s travel is when she is alone.
One day I went to one of the busiest railway stations in Kerala to catch a passenger train to reach my examination centre. As I was alone I reached the station early so that I can take the ticket, locate the platform etc without any hurry. As I expected there was a rush in the station. I managed to find a lady to whom I enquired about the ticket counter and the enquiry counter. She just told me about their location. I collided with someone on my way to the enquiry counter, but luckily it was a lady and she didn’t tick me off as she was in a hurry herself. I went to the enquiry and enquired about the train time etc and managed to stand in the long queue in front of the ticket counter. After a few minutes I reached the counter and I got the ticket.
Now I have to go to Platform 5. And I need help from sighted person to reach there. I became a little nervous and I was hesitant to ask help from men. One man came near me and asked shall we go, come with me. I am also going to the same place where you have to go and I can take you to the train and also help you in finding your seat. I understood that he was drunk, he had been standing behind me in the queue in front of the ticket counter and noticing me. I responded to him “no thanks” and somehow managed to escape. I found a girl who was also going to Platform 5 to catch the same train and she was also going to the same examination centre. I understood this because she was talking to somebody on her phone. I started talking to her and I asked her to help me. And she agreed and we went together to the platform and got into the train and reached the centre in time and luckily she came with me on my return also.
This is my experience and I am not a regular traveler but there are many blind people especially women who are commuters or who have to travel to different places as part of their job. We can attribute the travel of blind persons to their luck. If they are lucky enough then they can get a nice person to help them.
In my view certain basic steps can be taken to provide accessibility to blind persons. Many people complain that coaches for the disabled in trains are not really accessible for them. I am not talking about blind people only here. In some places of the country of course, some changes are taking place in providing accessibility in railway stations, bus stations etc. But we can also find many places where nothing has been changed. Accessible India which is an announcement of our central government is a good initiative to concentrate on and cover all these difficult aspects of accessibility to blind and people with other kind of disabilities on a priority basis. This campaign focuses on creating awareness among stakeholders about accessibility issues of people with disabilities and motivating them to create a disabled friendly environment in their respective fields. Lifts in many government owned buildings or other important buildings are still not fully accessible for blind people. Audio outputs while pressing buttons inside a lift is a good thing to have. Otherwise a blind person has to wait until a sighted person comes and helps them get into the lift and go to the respective floors. Audio and braille information provided in railway stations and bus stations may solve the issues of blind people to an extent. The audio and braille information must give directions to the counters, toilets, waiting rooms and other important locations. This kind of facility should be provided also in other public places such as hotels. Audio enabled touch screen devices are also of use to blind especially in railway stations otherwise they have to take sighted help to read reservation charts, identify coaches etc. Such facilities are available in Delhi Metro.
Audio announcements of stops in buses can solve the problem of identifying stops for the blind. Here we can consider the example of a private bus running in Kannur district of Kerala. In this bus there is an audio information system which gives announcements about the stops in English, Hindi and Malayalam. It is an appreciable attempt even though this arrangement is actually meant for workers from other states living in Kerala.
This year’s theme of the International Day for People with Disabilities which is going to be celebrated on December 3rd 2015 is Accessibility in Public Places. It is important to make sure that existing facilities are well publicized among people with disabilities, that their needs are fully understood through proactive measures such as surveys, and the implementation of policies should be stringently monitored.