Prabal Kr Das
GUWAHATI, Sept 26 – Assam might have made some strides in the field of transportation, but for a section of people it offers no opportunity to travel in a mode that is safe, comfortable and dignified. The elderly and the physically challenged, who have specific physical needs, find the going tougher than ever.
A pioneering survey by the Disability Law Unit of Shishu Sarothi, a Guwahati-based centre for rehabilitation and training for multiple disability, has revealed how one of the most vulnerable sections of society has been deprived of rights, which others can take for granted.
There is absence of ‘universal design’ in almost all major modes of transport resulting to serious inconvenience to senior citizens and disabled people. A lack of basic facilities in buses, trains, and at transit points was revealed by the study.
Absence of disabled-friendly infrastructure was noticed in major transport hubs like Guwahati Railway Station and Inter State Bus Terminus. In both the busy facilities, the disabled would confront severe hurdles in getting assistance.
In the case of Guwahati Railway Station, any disabled person or a person on wheelchair would have a harrowing experience to move from platform one to other platforms in the absence of a lift.
Although the busiest train station of Northeast India has seen major augmentation in recent times, no thought was given to the need for a lift or escalator. Today the aged, the infirm, and the disabled have to climb up and down a flight of stairs before they can move between platforms.
Or else, choose a more bizarre option. Arman Ali of Shishu Sarothi said, “On one occasion I had to sit on a wheelchair that was carried over the tracks till I reached my platform. It was dangerous, uncomfortable, and undignified.”
Like elsewhere in the country, the existing design of passenger coaches has not helped the elderly and the disabled. Access to water and toilets continue to challenge such passengers. “I found rail travel very frustrating because using the toilet on a moving train was a nightmare,” said Runu Medhi, a physically challenged woman working in an NGO.
The recently operational ISBT also did not fare well in the Shishu Sarothi survey, as assistance for the elderly and disabled was hard to come by. A lack of signs and information kiosks was noticed in the facility from which long distance coaches operate.
In and around Guwahati, one of most common problems for the elderly and the disabled emerges from flawed bus and bus stop designs. Almost all the buses have steep steps that they find hard to climb, made more tricky by the rush of people who are boarding or disembarking.
Today, there is no way an unaccompanied elderly or disabled person can safely board or exit from a city bus. The risk is considerable and real, the survey observed.
Commenting on the situation, Arman Ali said that it was time the authorities woke up and started making interventions. The rights of the elderly and the disabled need to be respected, he noted.