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Introduction of a wheelchair ramp might not be just what disability rights groups in Chennai asked for

Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) is all set to introduce a wheelchair ramp at Besant Nagar Beach in the city and the works are beginning soon. Disability rights groups have mixed responses for this new initiative which is expected to be completed by end of July.

Chennai is known for its beaches. Marina beach, one of the world's longest beaches, is also located at the capital city of Tamil Nadu. Besant Nagar and Elliott's beach adds to the charisma and beauty of the city. Last world disability day on 3 December, civic body had installed a temporary wheelchair ramp at Marina beach for wheelchair users who never had the chance to witness a beach. It did turn out to be successful with many wheelchair users turning up to check out the beach. After its success, the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) is gearing up to install a permanent ramp at the famous Besant Nagar beach. Reportedly, this ramp is going to lead wheelchair users till the shores of the beach so that they can enjoy the cool breeze and waters. This is indeed a great move but has got mixed responses from disability rights groups from across the city.

GCC claims that they are going to construct the ramp by July and the construction work will be completed within a few weeks. Officials point out that environment friendly materials will be used for the construction which will come under the government's Swadesh Darshan scheme. Wooden platforms and rolling rubber mats will be used for the ramps which will adhere to the standard size. It will begin from the Ashtalakshmi temple and extend till the shore. Officials claim that they are not leaving any stone unturned to ensure that the ramp is going to be strong and long-lasting.

Installing a ramp does not put an end to the facilities that must be provided to wheelchair users. Disability rights groups says that kiosks, accessible washrooms and free drinking water must be made available to wheelchair users can visit the beach without any hassles.

TMN Deepak, a disability rights activist from Chennai and founder of 3 December movement says that civic officials have given numerous promises like this before. So wheelchair users have no option but to wait until this ramp is made a reality.

I have my fingers crossed. I prefer to discuss about something like this after it is introduced. I'am positive about a wheelchair ramp at a famous beach like Besant Nagar because there has been considerable push from the disability sector. But people are discussing about why the ramp is introduced in Besant Nagar and not Marina which is a even more popular beach. Officials have promised to open the ramp by September. Such things in favour of disabled community happens once in a blue moon and is indeed a silver lining. We hope to see more beaches across the city being made inclusive. For now, let's wait and see how well this is going to be implemented-TMN Deepak, Founder, 3 December Movement

According to disability rights groups, GCC should have chosen Marina beach instead of Besant Nagar beach due to a handful of reasons. One of the main ones being that Marina is a world-renowned beach. Thousands of people from across the world visit the beach, and hence it must be made accessible without fail.

Satish Kumar from Chennai who is a wheelchair user, has been the part of Beach Accessible Programme that works on making all beaches across Chennai accessible and inclusive.

"We have been working on this for the past three years. Temporary ramps are built on occasions like world disability day and that is not enough. We do not understand why officials failed to make world renowned Marina beach accessible. Besant Nagar beach is smaller and there are many limitations. Like for instance, there is a large number of fishermen community who lives there. The beach is often congested because of nearby religious places too and people thronging to the beach. Once the ramp is implemented, it is important to maintain it well which is of utmost importance, says Kumar.

If all goes well, the ramps will be open to wheelchair users by end of July. As far as wheelchair users and activists are concerned, still many questions from GCC remains unanswered.

ALSO READ: Top 10 wheelchair accessible beaches of the world!

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