Sunday, 28 September 2014

Physician, heal thyself!

Haven’t you always wondered at the inordinately high level you have to climb on to before you can have an x-ray or a scan? Is there a secret golden rule followed by hospitals which demand that a patient who is aged, or who has some locomotor problems, must suffer that much more before the cause of their ailment can be assessed?
An attempt was recently made by some friends of mine, to conduct a survey of accessibility features in various hospitals, by requesting them to answer a questionnaire that had been prepared. The results were neither reassuring nor surprising:
  • 98 hospitals were approached for this purpose.
  • 64 of them agreed to answer the questionnaire, and although some responses seemed to be at some variance from what the volunteers taking the questionnaires saw, they had to take the questionnaires with the answers provided - without asking questions.
  • 34 hospitals refused to answer the questionnaire as they did not have the provisions asked about in the questionnaire. But the surveyors have no proof of this! Some of these 34 hospitals could well have some of these accessibility features.
  • Of the 64 that did respond to the questionnaire, there were three groups, each of more or less the same size, which could be described as being rather inaccessible, moderately accessible, and quite accessible.
This is just the sort of issue that Dr. Satendra Singh, another disability activist friend of mine, excels at bringing to the attention of courts or other appropriate powers that be, and forcing them to do something about it. 

How about it, Satendra?

Sunday, 14 September 2014

To tip or not to tip

This is not just a rhetorical question; it is a decision I writhe over making every time I have to use a plane. (Sorry for reverting to one of my pet topics.) You see, I use a (dry) battery operated wheelchair. But whenever I fly, I have to check in my own wheelchair, answer numerous questions regarding the possible danger to the aircraft in carrying my wheelchair, and then transfer to one of the wheelchairs used by the airline to transport people with locomotor disabilities.

The Director General of Civil Aviation had uploaded a draft Civil Aviation Requirements http://dgca.nic.in/misc/draft%20cars/D3M-M1_Draft_July2013_.pdf, according to (section 4.1.8 of) which, passengers who prefer to use their own wheelchair shall be permitted to use it provided the wheelchair conforms to identified guidelines, and the wheelchair returned to enable transfer of the passenger from the seat directly into his/her own wheelchair. That would be my idea of Nirvana - to be able to breeze through the airport independently without needing some poor guy to push me. (And, it would be much nicer to have admiring glances at my wheelchair zipping along, as against barely concealed looks of pity at my state!)

As it is, I have to check in my wheelchair at the time of checking in (after having removed the delicate joystick from it and stowed in a suitcase (deliberately chosen, only for this purpose, to be larger than would have otherwise been needed), and then transferring into one of the wheelchairs povided by the airline. And when I get to the destination, the checked-in wheelchair is brought to the conveyor belt where the bags come. After fixing some temporary dislocation the wheelchair invariably suffers while in transit, we then fix the joy-stick to the wheelchair, and get on our way.

But the point of the story is not my wheelchair, but the attendant provided by the airline to push the wheelchair provided by them. Invariably the question arises as to whether to tip the attendant, and if so, how much. On the one hand, one feels sorry for the poor chap needing to push me long distances, up and down slopes (in reverse in the latter case), ... On the other hand, it is their job, and not everybody can casually spend up to almost three hundred rupees just on tips for each flight (counting tips at both ends). My daughter says I should not tip them, as they tend to then demand such a tip, and treat passengers in a manner consistent with the tip they are likely to receive from the `fare'. I have many times, found the attendant not willing to take a tip in front of superior officers of their airline.

Of late, I have been flying the airline Indigo whenever possible, because they have ramps rather than steps so that I can be pushed all the way into the craft. The icing on the cake at my latest flight in Indigo was the response of the attendant, when offered a tip, after having taken us all the way to the pick-up point, and loaded our suitcase and my wheelchair into the van waiting for us: `No sir, this is free service from Indigo'!

It will help in the process of deciding whether or not to tip if passengers were told at check-in , that in keeping with airline policy (if that is indeed the case) , they should not tip the attendant.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Fingers Crossed

There was an event organised yesterday by the Citizen consumer and civic Action Group (CAG) of Chennai which I had received a very cordial invitation (from one of the trustees of this CAG) to attend. It was to a lecture titled `Nature Without Borders' and held at Sivagami Pethachi Hall, which is one of the few auditoria in Chennai where I attend plays, as one only has to negotiate some three shallow stairs. Initially mistaking the title for something to do with `Barrier-Free Environments', I told my hostess that I would come with my wheelchair, and she asked me to please do, promising whatever assistance I might need. I later discovered that I had been mistaken in connecting the talk to the kind of barriers I had in mind. Nevertheless, I thought it might not hurt to `make an appearance with my wheelchair', if at least to enlist some possible sympathy/help from people in influential positions. in trying to render some of these places accessible.

One of the first people I met ws a charming lady who had retired from the Madras High Court, and had been a former trustee of CAG. When a couple of guys helped carry my wheelchair in while I hobbled out of it and up the step into the auditorium, the hall was dark as the power had gone and the generator had not yet kicked in, so I sat in my wheelchair in the passage between the door and the nearest seat where this former judge was seated. It did not take much to launch into my gripes about how little it would take to organise a couple of temporary lightweight ramps which could be kept in place when needed, so one could wheel right in without anybody having to help. (See http://differentstrokes-vss.blogspot.in/2013/04/following-robert-bruce-example.html for what I mean by this!) I publicised my other pet peeve about my being unable to go the Museum Theatre, a quaint ambience to stage plays in, that is much favoured by actors - but which also has a surfeit of steps. And she said she had stopped going to the Museum Theatre, wishing to be kind to her knees which were getting no younger. Egged on by the sympathy, I said even the Music Academy, the favoured haunt for Carnatic music concerts, left a lot to be desired. Stung to the quick, she said she would use whatever clout she had there to render it fully accessible.

I also spoke to my hostess who promised to try and do something, and even suggested a few places I might want to write to, in order to increase the probability of my exercises having any effect. All in all, it had been a good end to the last working day of the week!

Monday, 4 August 2014

Smart designers could think universal

I have been managing with an ancient - unsmart - mobile phone for many years now, for two reasons: (i) the ineptness of most sixty plus people with electronic gizmos, and (ii) the conflict between needing two hands to operate a smart phone, on the one hand, and the fact that I am invariably walking with a crutch when the phone rings, on the other! As readers of this  blog might recall, I use a wheelchair when I can, but the lack of universal design in the planning of most public spaces and buildings in India force me to get off my rear and painfully and unsteadily walk with my crutch in super-slow-motion (and this keeps my physiotherapist happy, besides). Just for fun, let me give you an idea of one peculiar set of problems I have to deal with on a daily basis. Here goes: my left hand has little or no feeling, so searching for something in my pocket with the left hand is problematic; I don't know if I have picked out my pen or my phone or if indeed I have picked anything out until I see what is, or is not, in my hand. The natural solution - you would say, as if to an idiot child - is to keep things only in a pocket accessed by the right hand, but I need my right hand for my crutch when I have to walk. And by what's his name's principle, the phone will invariably ring only when I am walking!

And I do need my phone for reasons unfamiliar to most people. I usually get dropped  as close as is possible to wherever I have to get out of the car and walk to wherever I have to go, and when I return to the `pick-up point', I have to call my driver to ask him to come and get me; and this happens three or four times a day. And it is not as if I wouldn't like to have the internet available at my fingertips. But as I said earlier, these `smart'  phones, which everybody tells me I should get, come with two inconvenient features for me: (i) you need two hands to operate them, and (ii) the icons are so small - in order to show the huge number of `smart' options that are available to the user - that something like every fourth key/icon that my nimble fingers hit is a wrong one. (This, by the way, is one reason that even when I use the larger keyboard of a laptop, my efforts are riddled with typos - z's and r's appear where they have no business to!)

This post is an open letter to computer geeks to address my two problems above by coming up with a smart phone which (i) can be operated easily with one hand, and (ii) incorporate a mechanism whereby an icon blows up in size when one's finger is above it (Macs have this facility when the cursor goes over icons in the `dock';) and thereby permit me to sample the `smart' aids that are available to most people other than me. I am sure (ii) above would also help people with low vision. Some universal design please! 

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Equals?


Recently, some disability activist friends of mine wanted to register an organisation (a DPO called Equals), and this involved going to the sub-registrar's office in Saidapet, Chennai. I have had to go to this office a couple of times myself in the matter of a mortgage for my flat. Every visit there was a painful experience.  In the first place, it is located on a narrow street with vehicles parked randomly and densely so that it is very difficult even for a `normal person' to go from a car to the office building. And there is the inevitable flight of some number (my memory says about three to five) of steps to be navigated before one can get from the pavement to the interior of the building.

And the inside is a typical Governmnt office, swarming with touts who are waiting to explain the complicated rules and procedures to be followed and to run your errand for a fee in the almost sure event of your not understanding the procedure explained by them. This is all unofficial, of course, and if you take the seemingly easy way out of accepting their offer, what follows is alternate periods of long waits (while he runs up to the office on the second floor to execute the next step of `the procedure') and negotiating with him when he comes and says he needs an extra N rupees in order to give somebody along the chain who HAS to be placated - i.e., have his palm greased - before proceeding to the next step.

But Rajiv (in his wheelchair) and Meenakshi (with her crutches and other assistive devices) are stalwarts in the area of disability activism who are made of sterner stuff. (Otherwise they could not have lasted more than two decades doing this kind of work!) So Rajiv leaves his wheelchair downstairs and crawls on hands and knees up the infinitude of not particularly clean steps to go up the two floors, and Meenakshi must have undergone an equally painful ten minutes each way, to go up and then climb down all the steps. But at the end of the day, `Equals' is up and running, and they are one step ahead in the never-ending struggle to make it possible for PWD to lead a life on par with `normal' people.

This was covered by the newspapers today, and here is a link to one of the newspaper articles which carries a photograph of Rajiv dragging himself down the stairs. And this is 19 years after the PWD Act and seven years since India became a signatory to the UNCRPD. (In case our politicians and law makers do not remember, the acronym stands for `United Nations Convention on the Rights for People with Disabilities'.)

It is a crying shame that every year, the relevant Ministry spends only a ridiculous fraction of the money allotted for various measures, and that too on trivial peripherals without doing anything about addressing the basic problems of accessibility. A recent press release from the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment says:

13th National Meeting of the State Commissioners for Persons with Disabilities to Review Implementation of the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995. 

The Union Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Shri Thaawar Chand Gehlot inaugurated the 13th National Meeting of the State Commissioners for Persons with Disabilities to review implementation of PWD Act here today. 

......................................................................

The Minister emphasized on ensuring barrier free access to public places for persons with disabilities in a time bound manner. 

......................................................................

I wonder: is Tamil Nadu, where Meenakshi and Rajiv underwent the tribulations described above, one of the Indian states, to which Shri Gehlot's utterances apply? Just how much longer should this kind of unnecessary hardship be endured by PWD, leave alone the well-meaning advocates of their rights?

Monday, 14 July 2014

Surely you are joking Mr. Director General of Civil Aviation!


I am getting sick of the monotonous regularity with which our airlines continue to discriminate against PWD because they strike the aireline authorirties as being potential security hazards (sic) to other passengers. The latest such manifestation of such insensitivity was when a woman was not allowed to board a flight with her autistic son who was perceived a such a hazard. See http://www.deccanherald.com/content/418968/no-air-travel-mentally-challenged.html for the gory details. Unlike the opinion apparently expressed, according to the above report, by Mr. Javed Abidi - almost universally perceived by the Indian Press and powers-that-be in Delhi as the spokesman of PWDs in India -  I am not at all surprised by this incident. I do not forget what Jeeja Ghosh underwent. And she is far from being a unique victim of such blatant travesty of justice

What makes this latest assault on PWDs doubly horrific is that many of us were involved in a long exercise (with a groupspace called `flight:we-the-pwd...') in how people with disabilities could ensure better experiences when taking domestic flights. And about all I can lay hands on to show for all our effort was this draft of an official document, which, although `dated ../../2013' shows that our civil aviation ministry has shockingly short memory: http://dgca.nic.in/misc/draft%20cars/D3M-M1_Draft_July2013_.pdf . Just when will all these politically correct sounding statements get translated to some sensitivity on the ground - that too, from the National Carrier Air India. I swore some years ago to never fly Air India and their ground staff are vindicating this decision at least once in three months. Do our government officials have no accountability? Can they say sweet nothings which are not reflected in how their departments function? Do they have no pride in their work?

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Never-ever-more

What do the following places have in common: J.N. Tata Auditorium (Bangalore), Vigyan Bhawan (Delhi), Indian Institute of Science (Bangalore), Tata Institute of Science (Mumbai), The Museum Theatre (Chennai), Siri Fort Auditorium III (Delhi)? Aside from the fact that they are the places where the Indian Government transacts its more `significant' activities, they vie with one other in being inaccessible to people in wheelchairs. While I have documented/substantiated my claims about all these places (except the last one) in this blog - in the posts titled What got my goat - and made me pick up my pen (March 2012), Nevermore (May 2014), The mother of all institutes (December 2013), and Ingenious Hurdles to Access (December 2011) - this post addresses itself to the last of these buildings.

In the post Nevermore referred to above, I had spoken of how Abha, a wheelchair-bound writer with many accomplishments was called to a premiere of the movie called Accsex that was brilliantly held at an inaccessible venue, and of how we should boycott any event to which we are invited if it is at an inaccessible venue. And, sure enough, it has happened to her again, this time at the Siri Fort Auditorium. No words are needed when you see the photograph below:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10203983299480770&set=pcb.10203983336001683&type=1&theater

When Abha posted on Facebook that this movie was going to be screened for bout a week in late July/early August, I seriously thought of trying to see it when I go to Delhi for a few days in late July. But fter these two miserable experiences, I really need to check with a friend if the venue is really accessible.

India is supposed to be one of the countries with the highest percentage of its population below 25 years of age; but I would hazard a guess that it must be near the top of the table when it comes to the percentage of its elected representatives who are over 60 years of age. You would imagine that these elected representatives would think a little more about how they themselves will negotiate all these stairs-filled halls in twenty years time, when their knees start creaking! Since they don't seem to think of the needs of PWD or feel any compulsion to pay any heed to the fact that India is allegedly a signatory to the UNCRPD, this is the only way we can hope that they will be moved to doing something we may benefit by!