A tough climb

A tough climb

Difficulties galore

A tough climb

There are several things about Bengaluru that cement its status as one of the most developed cities of India. A thriving IT culture, a decidedly cosmopolitan way of life and a heterogenous mix of people. But development should not be a prerogative of a few and when we make strides forward, care should be taken to see that no one is left behind.

And even with all its achievements, Bengaluru has still not earned the tag of ‘disabled-friendly’.

There are several challenges that the differently-abled face in this city. From accessibility to employment opportunities and recreational facilities, problems abound and solutions are limited.

Says Sunil Kumar, a professional in the city who suffers from muscular dystrophy, “Public places here are not equipped for people like us. The newly constructed buildings are a perfect example. They have escalators and lifts inside them but not many of them have ramps that will help us get inside the building in the first place. And since most of these buildings are built at a height above ground level, this is very necessary. Another problem is the buses. Though the wheelchair provision in some of them is indeed a blessing, this is not available in all the buses.”

Being the common man’s transport, there is indeed a dire need to provide such facilities in buses. Dr Ekroop Caur, MD, BMTC, says, “As of now, only the premium buses have provisions for wheelchairs and these make up only about 10% of the fleet strength.”

Mahesh Raman, a professional and a volunteer with an NGO working with the disabled, says, “I have seen many instances where even old people struggle to get into buses or climb a steep flight of stairs. So one can imagine how daunting a task that would be for people who are disabled. Conductors and drivers are also not very courteous with such people and start the bus without seeing if that person has been seated or not.”

Though public space accessibility is dismal, the employment scenario is taking a turn for the better with many corporates now opening their doors to people with disabilities. Pavithra Y S, who runs Vindhya E Infomedia, a BPO where a majority of the employees are disabled, is optimistic about the chances of getting the disabled into the mainstream with a little bit of effort.

“It just takes a small step from our side. When we started the BPO, we thought we should provide equal opportunities for everyone. Initially, there were challenges. We had to customise our training programmes, set in place a buddy programme and sensitise ourselves to dealing with differences. After that, all such employees performed brilliantly and showcased wonderful productivity. They match the standards of normal people any day,” she says.

Suryakant Girigiri, an employee at her BPO, proves this. He did not let visual impairment deter him and even uses a special screen data software that lets him know which place he is in. “But not everyone has access to the same facilities. The city is not easy to navigate for blind people. There is a lack of signages and facilities for the visually impaired. There should be easy availability of helping sticks with special devices attached to them to help people like me,” he says.

For Srikrish and Vidhya, the directors of ‘Kickstart Cabs’, an initiative supported by Mphasis, it was a deep passion to make the city a more inclusive place that led them to start a cab service exclusively for the disabled. “Navigating the maze of roads is a huge challenge for such people and our low levels of awareness about their plight contributes to the problem. Even while travelling by cars or autos, such people are extremely dependent on relatives and friends to help them get in or out of the vehicle. Public toilets and many modern buildings have utter disregard for the wheelchair users,” says Srikrish. “The government needs to think about such people too while planning the infrastructure and their needs should be kept in mind even while framing policies.”
After all, development for a few is not development, it is privilege.

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