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Do more than reserve coaches, disabled community tell Indian Railways

The Indian Railways remains the most popular mode of travel across India. Given their connectivity and prices, it's hard to beat trains when it comes to travel. This is true for everyone, regardless of disability, but what the many infrastructure and accessibility barriers make the experience of train travel harrowing for the disabled community.

Well, there is some hope in the future with the Indian Railways making some noises about a dedicated coach for people with disabilities on certain long distance trains. These are likely to be the widely used Rajdhani, Duronto and Shatabdi.

Currently outstation trains have two coaches that are used to power the air-conditioning unit of the train. This will be upgraded say railway authorities such that they will now need to use a single coach for the air-conditioning unit. This will make one coach available for the use of passengers and this is likely to be set aside for passengers with disabilities.

Dr Ketna L Mehta of the NGO Nina Foundation, however, says the announcement barely skims the surface of the problem.

My wish list from the railways is to go beyond this belated announcement and incorporate these measures too - emergency buttons inside the coaches connected to engine drivers, intercom phones in working condition, wheelchair accessible hygienic & clean washrooms, wide doors and ramps, wheelchair chains for safety, police personnel for protection, water coolers and a three digit special helpline number. Then the Indian Railways will be a safe, reasonable and inclusive mode of transport. - Ketna L Mehta, Founder-Trustee, Nina Foundation

Many others in the disabled community agree that other factors need to be looked at as well. Nisha Gupta, a wheelchair basketball player and a frequent train traveller, says much depends on implementation, which is a weak spot.

"The idea of a dedicated coach does sound good but will it be properly implemented? In accessible train coaches, platforms, entries into railway stations and many other challenges are there. I travel alone a lot and worry constantly about safety since I am a wheelchair user. I wait for an accessible future when I will be able to catch a train without relying on the help of strangers", says Nisha.

The change, as the community points out, has to be done in comprehensive manner and not in a piecemeal way to make train travel truly accessible.

"The special coach for the disabled is a good initiative but the Indian railways are not looking for a holistic solution. First of all, they need to make the railway station accessible. There should be an elevator or a ramp to reach the platform. It is impossible for a wheelchair user to climb the staircases of the bridge. Then the platform and the train door should be at the same level so that the person on the wheelchair or the wheelchair is not required to be lifted. The door of the coaches should be wide enough to let the wheelchair get inside. The accessible coach should have a wheelchair accessible washroom, says Jasmina Khanna, a Mumbai-based software tester

These are longstanding demands and will benefit of not just disabled people but also the elderly. The way forward is to look at a wide-based solution that addresses all concerns.

ALSO READ: Railways' refusal to accept UDID cards underlines larger apathy towards disabled passengers

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