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Big win for disability groups as Kerala buses become accessible for wheelchair users

Two weeks ago, disability rights groups in Kerala were all set to legally battle the Kerala Urban Road Transport Corporation (KURTC) for removing disabled-friendly features in their low floor buses.

The road transport authorities had added more seats to the space where space had been set aside for wheelchairs to be locked and kept. When questioned, they response was that the rush during peak passenger traffic hours made it difficult to dedicate spaces for wheelchair users. So they decided to clock the entrance for wheelchair users.

Angered by this callous response, the All Kerala Wheelchair Rights Federation, along with other NGOs and people, took the matter up with higher authorities and now justice has been granted.

AK Saseendran, Kerala Transport Minister took to social media to promise that wheelchair users will not have to face any hassles from here on.

The Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) has been directed to bring back all facilities for disabled people that were earlier removed. A complaint was raised pointing out that disabled people lost facilities inside low floor buses when new seats were introduced. That is why the government decided to bring back all the facilities that were there earlier as well. -AK Saseendran, Kerala Transport Minister

The KURTC-run low floor buses are the only public road transport facilities for wheelchair users in the state. They have wheelchair ramps which make it easier to enter the bus as well as dedicated areas for keeping wheelchairs. It is also an affordable means of transport for many disabled people in the state and taking away these facilities was a violation of the RPWD Act 2016. The Act clearly states that all public roads and transport systems are to be made accessible and disabled-friendly.

Wheelchair users had to cross some hurdles to ensure that their voices were heard.

Rajeev Palluruthy, Secretary, All Kerala Wheelchair Rights Federation (AKWRF), led the fight to ensure that these facilities were brought back. On 20 October 2018, AKWRF authorities registered their first complaint. On 7 November 2018, the second complaint was filed at the Transport Minister's office. The third complaint was directly handed over to the minister on 10 November 2018. This was followed up with a complaint with Tomin Thachankery, former managing director of KSRTC.

"We made sure that our complaints were heard loud and clear. There are many wheelchair users who rely on these low floor buses for commuting to places. By making buses inaccessible, authorities are just denying wheelchair users of their rights", says Palluruthy.

The issue was finally raised at the legislative assembly after which concerned authorities were moved into taking back their orders. Activists also had a special word of thanks for George Fernandez, an MLA who stood by them through this fight.

ALSO READ: Kerala's disability rights groups gear up to challenge unjust road transport authorities

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