Disabled activist falls off ramp of ‘accessible’ bus

Incident triggers panic during trial of disabled-friendly MTC buses; officials promise to make necessary changes based on feedback

Published: 08th November 2019 06:42 AM  |   Last Updated: 08th November 2019 06:42 AM   |  A+A-

PwDs inspecting the ‘accessible’ bus in Chennai on Thursday | R Satish Babu

Express News Service

CHENNAI: In a shocking case, a person with disability, who was invited to participate in a demonstration and trial of accessible MTC buses, toppled backward from the ramp when she tried to board the vehicle, and hit the back of her head on concrete floor. The incident stirred panic at the function, as other persons with disabilities felt the prototype was a threat to their safety.

The government officials have assured that necessary changes would be made to the final model, based on the feedback they receive. A total of 100 accessible buses will operate across various city routes in the coming days. Smitha Sadasivan of the disability rights alliance, who fell off the ramp, said it’s pathetic that initial designs are so unfriendly.

“Common sense must be used by officials in designing vehicles, right from an initial stage,” she said. Others too argued that ramps must be smooth, without bumps caused by bolts and joints. “There is very little space for parking wheelchairs in the bus, and a lack of appropriate railing support,” says Rajiv Ranjan, executive director of the disability rights organisation, Ektha.    

Visually impaired users faced two major problems at the trial. One, the support cane they use for walking, got trapped in the perforated grill of the ramp floor, posing a threat of them  slipping or losing balance. Two, the entry door from the ramp, does not have sufficient height allowance for a standing person as it measures only about 5 ft.

Speaking to Express, Johny Tom Varghese, IAS, Director for the Welfare of Differently Abled, said that he will take in all feedback submitted at the consultation and recommend appropriate changes to the MTC. “The feedback will be taken very seriously. We will soon have an inter-departmental meeting to discuss the issues with MTC and Chennai Corporation,” he said.

Vaishnavi Jayakumar, a member of the Disability Rights Alliance, told Express that all buses should have level-boarding facility, making it more accessible to people with different kinds of disabilities. “Over 4300 new inaccessible buses have been procured since the Madras High Court order in 2016. Not one is accessible. This is not just contempt of court, this is contempt of disabled citizens who are being taken for a ride metaphorically. Sadly that’s not even possible yet, literally.”

In its 2016 order, the court had said that the idea must not be to have separate buses for the disabled, but to design every bus in such a way that it meets requirements of people with special needs. The Managing Director of the MTC could not be reached for comments.

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