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Road transport turns nightmare for wheelchair users in Kerala

Travelling can be tedious and tiresome. For a person with a disability, it can be even harder. Now, disabled people in Kerala are coming together to fight against the insensitivity of government officials. All Kerala Urban Road Transport Corporation (KURTC) buses have exclusive spaces to keep wheelchairs and they even have wheelchair ramps. Recently, KURTC took an extreme step. They removed all the facilities for wheelchair users to add more seats in the buses. This has made travelling impossible for wheelchair users.

Popularly known as Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), these low floor buses are the only road transport with facilities for wheelchair users. These buses are introduced to Kerala roads in collaboration with the central government. In spite of repeated complaints, JNNURM officials refuse to bring back wheelchair ramps and exclusive spaces.

The state government is being insensitive to our requirements. Having wheelchair facilities in public transport is our right. Earlier, when we had the facilities, travelling was much easier. There are many wheelchair users who commute to different parts of the state in these low floor buses for studying and even work. Now, travelling has become a nightmare to us. We have given complaint to ministers and other officials. But our complaints go unheard. Six new seats are installed at places which are for wheelchair users. How do they expect us to travel in the buses?- Mohammad Rabeeh, wheelchair user and disability rights activist from Kerala

According to reports, the seats were installed due to increase in number of passengers. Officials have also been getting complaints saying that there are no enough spaces in buses.

"A person without a disability can board any bus. In fact, there are buses every ten minutes to prime locations from all bus stops. What about wheelchair users? Their only mode of public road transport was these low floor buses", says Rabeeh.

Wheelchair users also point out that most of the bus drivers refuse to stop the bus when they see a wheelchair user. Recently, Rabeeh and his friends had to chase a bus and make the driver stop it so that Rabeeh could board the bus. Once he boarded the bus, passengers abused him saying that he caused them inconvenience! These are not isolated incidents. Wheelchair users and people with disabilities face discrimination and harassment in many ways.

"I used to take a bus almost every day to go to school. It was easiest for me because I could place my wheelchairs inside the bus and there was a ramp as well. But now everything has been taken off. It has been over three months since they took off the facilities for wheelchair users. I tried speaking to a few authorities and I have not heard back from them. Maybe very few wheelchair users make use of these facilities and that must be the reason they decided to take it off", says Mohammad Fasil, a school student from Kerala.

Irrespective of the numerous complaints, officials have decided not to take action. Wheelchair users are struggling to find ways of public road transport. This sheer apathy is costing them a lot!  

ALSO READ: Specially modified vehicles gives disabled people wings to fly

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