The absence of provisions for persons with disabilities (PwD) makes it tough for them to access suburban railway stations. Except for a few railway stations like Egmore, most stations in the city and its neighbourhood lack ramps and signboards. The absence of special counters and queues for PwD only adds to their troubles.
S K Mariappan, a special educator, faces the everyday challenge of commuting by electric multiple unit (EMU) train between Tambaram and Saidapet. To reach his office, he has to leave at least an hour early, as his ordeals range from waiting in line to buy tickets, to walking down the steps and boarding the train. “Going up and down about 30 steps four times a day is challenging. Even though I can now walk with support, I find it difficult, especially during peak hours,” says Mariappan. “If the station had ramps, it would be much easier for people like me to commute; and if there was a separate ticket counter for persons with disabilities and senior citizens, it would be helpful.”
Visually-challenged P Venugopalan counts the number of steps on the foot-over-bridge (FOB) to ensure that he does not trip. “Every month, I have to depend on somebody to get my railway pass. While climbing the stairs, I fear that I may fall or miss a step,” he rues.
Another major hindrance for PwD is the renovation work at stations, where mud on the floor makes it slippery. Though some stations like Tambaram have escalators, they are of little use to the disabled, as many fear they may slip while using the facility. Some passengers complain that they have not travelled by train for several years because of these reasons.
The last time E Jagan (38) travelled by train was 17 years ago. The acupuncture doctor gave up on taking the train because most stations are not disabled-friendly.
“The very thought of travelling by train gives me jitters. Until I was nine years old, I used to travel by train often because my father used to accompany me. But later, even while waiting on the platform, my heart would beat fast. I was scared I would fall, as unlike in buses, the loco pilot cannot check whether people are boarding,” recalls Jagan. He adds that climbing the stairs is an additional disadvantage. “Even for a common man, climbing the stairs at the station after work is tiring; our situation is much worse,” he says.
Activists allege that despite their efforts to highlight issues PwD face at suburban railway stations, not much progress has been made.
S Namburajan, general secretary of the Tamilnadu Association for the Rights of All Types of Differently Abled and Caregivers, said they have been fighting for the cause for several years.
As per the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, he said, an exclusive parking lot should be provided for PwD in public structures. “But it’s yet to be implemented at railway stations. If ramps are provided, they would bring relief to senior citizens as well,” he points out.
(With inputs from Yogesh Kabirdoss)