This article is written by Turab Chimthanawala
Visual Impairment is a handicap and such people are dependent even in routine activities. If the right help is not available at the right time they may have to suffer adversely. However, if the environment is suitably modified and made more familiarised for them, by using their other senses can do even complex tasks independently and with considerable ease. One area where the visually impaired people face great hardship is public transport. Although a good public transport system is a major contributor to the growth of an economy, the Indian public transport system is far from friendly for the visually challenged. Thus there is a need to make suitable improvements in the public transport system to ensure easy access by the visually challenged.
The Indian railway network although being one of the world’s largest, except the fare concessions it is far from friendly for visually handicapped persons. However the recently started Delhi Metro modelled on the rail networks in foreign countries, is well equipped to accommodate the needs of visually handicapped persons. Thus my suggestions for improvement in the Indian railway are to some extent based on my observations of the Delhi Metro.
Modifications in railway stations
- To enable easy navigation of visually handicapped persons, there should be enlarged maps put up at the railway stations explaining the entire outlay of the station including the different platforms. The large junctions should have help desks at the entrance.
- All platforms should have tactile paths for the easy navigation of visually handicapped persons and to prevent mishaps railings should be put up at the end of platforms.
- Since such people rely more on their auditory senses, the announcements made at the station should be loud and clear, in local language(s).
- Mobile applications should be developed wherein the passengers can check the status of their bookings, whether confirmed or waiting and their seat numbers, thus removing the hassle of checking up the charts at stations.
Modifications in trains
- Systems must also be installed in all trains to announce the name of the upcoming station. The announcement should also specify the side on which the passengers should embark.
- To enable visually challenged people to figure out their seats the seat numbers should be written in bold or devices should be installed on side of every berth to speak out the berth number on pressing a button.
- The attendants in the trains should be counselled to help the visually challenged persons wherever possible.
- Toilets which are far from comfortable even for sighted persons need to be restructured with emphasis not only on cleanliness but they should be better lit.
- Although there is definitely an effort by the railway authorities to allot lower berths to handicapped persons, suitable steps should be taken to design such ladders which enable visually handicapped persons to climb up to the upper and middle berths independently with ease.
Bus is one of the most important public transport in India and buses connect places in contiguous and interior areas which cannot be reached by rail or air. Thus if this transport is suitably modified for visually handicapped persons, we would take a major step towards independence of visually impaired. According to me the following modifications should be made.
- Audio announcements should be installed in buses to enable visually handicapped persons to know when their destination has been reached. Such trials are been conducted by ‘Transport for London’ on London buses and are certainly worth a trial in Indian buses.
- Another application worth installing is Trekker, a GPS audio system, that announces street names as the bus approaches
- As has been the case in some foreign countries, the Indian transport authority should also set up solar powered talking bus stops, especially in the metros that, upon pressing a button on the bus stop, gives audio information on bus times, bus routes etc.
- In some of the crowded bus stops, escorts should be present to assist the person in boarding and embarking
- Bus number should be in bold on the front side of the bus to be clearly seen.
- At the time of recruitment, the drivers and conductors should be counselled about how to deal with visually handicapped persons. Drivers and conductors should be careful and ensure blind persons have boarded and embarked from the bus.
- The first row should be reserved for impaired and this should be publicly notified
Air transport, although ‘so-called; sophisticated is not friendly for visually handicapped persons. Some modifications are imperative to ensure smooth air travel for the visually handicapped persons in the true sense.
To enable visually handicapped persons to independently find their seats, buttons should be fitted on the side of the seats to speak out the seat number
It should be the responsibility of the air hostess to personally acquaint the visually handicapped persons with all safety instructions
- Since in the large airports like Mumbai and Delhi, there is a cent percent chance of getting lost even for sighted persons, illuminated and Enlarged maps should be put up clearly laying out the different terminals and gates. The large airports should also have help desks in every terminal.
- Since it becomes problematic for visually impaired people to identify their luggage at the time of embarking they should be allowed to carry more cabin luggage.
- Interactive ‘KIOSKS’ should be set up near the boarding pass counters and the lounges which can be accessed by visually impaired persons, which provide information about those flights ready for security check, boarding, take off.
- While booking tickets there should be a checkbox asking whether the passenger is visually impaired and if it is ‘checked’ the entire Public Address System should be modified, such persons should receive updates about security check , boarding , special treatment by airport staff , Braille or enlarged copy of boarding pass etc.
These are just suggestions for the independent access of public transport for the visually impaired. But a lot needs to be done to make the transport system more acclimatised for visually handicapped persons. I just pray and hope that the ‘Modi Wave’ which has tried to rectify every troubled area, throws some light on this sector as well.