Wheelchairs and air travel

bhadras-staff-provides-special-assistance-to-passengers-at-chennai-airport-terminalI recently took my mother-in-law to Mumbai for a family wedding. While she can walk a bit, she finds standing for extended periods and walking long distances very painful, so I ordered wheelchair support for her at the time of check-in.

The Indigo airlines people (MAA-BOM) were very kind and helpful. They came and found us even before we reached the check-in counter and got her comfortably seated in a wheelchair. They then took her through security and and ensured that she reached the gate well before flight time. They then came back at the time of boarding and made sure she got on to the plane before anyone else and was seated comfortably before the rest boarded.

Similarly at the Mumbai airport, after everyone had disembarked, they brought a wheelchair through the aerobridge and remained with us till we got into a pre-paid taxi. The person manning the wheelchair even took her to a disabled toilet before we got into the cab. He remained patient, courteous and kind through out.

Our return was by Jet airways. The embarking process went smoothly with the wheelchair available to my mother-in-law from the airport entrance itself all the way to the aircraft. I was extremely happy with the service and it made my mother-in-law’s travel much less of an ordeal than it could have been without the wheelchair support provided by the two airlines.

At the Chennai airport, after the flight landed, we waited for everyone to disembark and then started to move forward towards the aerobridge when a flight attendant announced that wheelchair users should use the rear exit. We turned around and went there only to find a flight of steps down (no aero bridge). When we protested, they said please get down the steps and we will get you a wheelchair. So we helped her get down the steep stairs which she managed with a lot of difficulty. At the bottom, they said, please get into the bus and we will get you a wheelchair at the terminal. It was just another 20 meters and she was game, so we did not think too much about it. However, getting into the bus was something else! The first step of the bus is a good foot above the ground and she really found it difficult to climb in. Finally, my wife and I literally lifted her on to the bus while the ground crew stood around watching.

Not surprisingly, at the terminal end, there was no wheelchair waiting for us. We got her down from the bus and started making our way towards the baggage carousel. Just as we were almost at the carousel, the wheelchair finally arrived. As a saving grace, the attender stayed with us all the way to the pickup location a good 200 meters from the arrival hall.

When it comes to accessibility services, we are almost there, but not quite yet. The strength of a chain is that of the weakest link. Similarly, the final quality of the service depends not so much on the parts that you do well, but on the places where you drop the ball. In this case, the disembarkation process at the Chennai airport was a disaster in terms of service. Jet airways needs to take note and improve on their service.

I will be writing to them about this so they can really consistently do their job well. If you have a similar experience, please make sure you write to the concerned authorities so that they can improve upon their services. If we don’t tell them, how will they know they need to improve?

Elders week: Chennai Metro falls flat on Accessibility

Metro-gettingdown_3031140gThe first week of October is marked as Elders week and a lot of programs are conducted around the country to highlight the fact that there is an elderly segment of population still living in India.

Pensioners Associations, senior citizens bureaus, Probus clubs, and several private organizations working in the senior citizens sector have been announcing various cultural and informative programs for the said elders.

While these organizations and their programs do bring elders and their issues to the fore, however transiently, whether any permanent improvements are happening is yet to be determined.

One telling article in Hindu illustrates the general apathy of Indians and the Indian Government when it comes to elders and accessibility issues.  This article documents the study conducted by the Disability Rights Alliance on the Airport Metro rail station in Chennai, a building that has just been completed.  Here are some of the results:

1. Entry issues

For Smitha Sadasivan, getting into the station itself was a challenge as the ramp was not level with the ground. Also, the ramp from the parking lot was steep and had no handrails, activists said.

2. Gaps in staircases

Gopi Krishnan and M. Veerappan, who have low vision, noted that there were gaps between the stairs, where their canes slipped in. “It makes us nervous when climbing up,” said Mr. Krishnan.

3. Incomplete signage

Signage was unclear and in many places, incomplete, the tactile paths were patchy and in the bathroom for the disabled, the flush behind the toilet could not be easily reached. Also, there was a difference in the level of the flooring at the entrance, making it hard to get in and out, said B. Meenakshi, an activist.

4. Levels of difference

On the platform, the tactile path did not extend towards the train, and wheelchair users had difficulty getting in due to the difference in the levels of the train and the platform. The warning strip on the platform near the train was inadequate for visually impaired persons using canes, the members said.

5. Lost in the lift

At Nanganallur, the team had problems due to lack of signage, inaccessible drinking water facilities and nobody answering the help button at the lift, said Sudha Ramamoorthy, a DRA member, “Also, there was no announcement of the doors opening and closing in the lift and the music is quite loud, making it difficult to hear anything when the help button is pressed,” she said.

6. A mixed bag

There was some progress though, said Vaishnavi Jayakumar, a DRA member. “The floor is not as slippery as it was at Alandur, making it easier for those on crutches, and it is of a different colour. The ticket counters are lower and more easily reachable and the ticket vending machines are also somewhat accessible. However, persons with visual impairment cannot use them,” she said.

To read the full article, go here.

 

Elders week – Accessibility still out of reach

polling-stationIndia’s first accessibility audit failed to find a single public building or place that was completely accessible to people with disability!

That the first accessibility audit has been conducted decades after Independence is in itself a telling fact.  However, even this would not have happened except for PM Narendra Modi’s push for an accessible India.

The first phase of audit, launched across 31 cities as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet initiative Accessible India, threw up shocking results, revealing appalling state of toilets and other facilities for persons with disabilities in public buildings, hospitals, railway stations and educational institutions, and half-hearted attempts at building ramps in the name of accessibility.

The department of empowerment of persons with disabilities (Divyangjan) had entrusted the task of auditing public buildings across 31 cities to 11 empanelled auditors.

You can read more about it here.

Choosing the right wheelchair

Heart-Health-Wheelchair-Stock-Photo-wheelchair-cartoonChoosing the right wheelchair for an elderly relative is a non-trivial activity. Wheelchairs come in many shapes and sizes, in many different materials, and designed for different uses.

Here are 15 questions for which you need to know answers in order to decide on the right wheelchair.

Is it for indoor use or outdoor use?
If it is for outdoor use, ensure that the back wheels are big. This will ensure that the wheelchair can take the ups and downs of Indian roads and platforms.

Is it foldable?
Most wheelchairs are foldable. Since wheelchairs are stored away for much of the day and through out the night (in the case of seniors), a foldable wheelchair will occupy less space when not in use.

Will it fit into my car boot?
Sometimes, you may want to take the wheelchair with you. In such cases, it is important that the wheelchair folds into a compact size so that it can be easily stowed away in the boot or back seat of the car.

Are the armrests removable?
Removable armrests help in sliding from bed to the wheelchair and back. This can help if the user of the wheelchair is capable of moving sideways, and the bed and wheelchair are at almost the same height.

Are the footrests removable?
Removable footrests ensure that the wheelchair folds into a smaller place as well as help in making the wheelchairs less unwieldy while transporting.

How heavy is the wheelchair?
Sometimes, the person helping the user of the wheelchair may also be a senior citizen. In such cases, it is very important that the helper is able to lift and maneuver the chair. where possible, buy a lighter wheelchair.

How much weight can the wheelchair bear?
A typical wheelchair is certified for about 100 kilos. In the case that the user is much heavier, go for a bariatric range wheelchair.

What are the dimensions of the wheelchair?
In many homes, the doorways and passages can be very narrow. The bathroom doors, in particular, are usually only 2 – 2.5 feet wide in many Indian homes. Before purchasing the wheelchair, ensure that the wheelchair is able to go to all the places you plan to take it to.

Self-propelled or attendant chair?
A self-propelled manual wheelchair will have large wheels while an attendant wheelchair may have smaller wheels and brakes for the attendant to use. Choose depending on usage. If the person using the wheelchair does not have enough strength to propel themselves, go for a wheelchair designed for attendant use.

Is it for transit purposes?
If you are planning to use the wheelchair only during travel (at airports and railway stations, etc), then go for one of the very light-weight, compact aluminium transit wheelchair models.

Is reclining an option?
Some wheelchairs allow for reclining. These usually are larger and take up much more space. If a person is going to be sitting in a wheelchair for long periods, the reclining option may be useful.

Will it rust?
Wheelchairs come in different materials from mild steel to high-grade aluminium and other alloys. If you are planning to take the wheelchair into bathrooms and toilets or expect it to come in contact with the elements, go for an aluminium one. Chrome plated wheelchairs tend to rust after a while.

Motorized or manual?
Unless you are living in a high-end gated community with smooth roads and pavements, there is usually very little value in going for a motorized wheelchair in India as most places are not conducive for motorized wheelchair use. Needless to say, Indian roads are not safe for motorized wheelchairs.

Is a commode attached?
A few models of wheelchairs come with commodes attached, so they act as portable commodes as well as wheelchairs. Under most circumstances, it is preferable to keep the wheelchair and the commode separate for various reasons. However, if you need them together, know that such models are available.

What is the cost?
Wheelchairs, like most other things, come in different price brackets. Choose one that fits your budget.

If you have more doubts, write to us at info@oldisgoldstore.com

Accessibility issues for elders

It is indeed surprising, that despite being a culture that supposedly reveres the elderly, we don’t give the needs of the aged and the disabled in India any thought at all.

To truly appreciate how insensitive we are to the needs of the elderly (and the disabled), do this mental exercise.  Imagine yourself to be wheelchair bound.  Actually, let us not go that far yet. Just imagine you are an old person with slightly diminished reflexes and minor balance issues that necessitate you to carry a walking stick for balance. With that firmly in mind, now take a look at the world around you.

Chennai-pavements-_1503352g One of the few roads in Chennai with a footpath.  Notice how there is construction debris all over the pavement and the two ladies are being forced to walk on the road, risking the prospect of being run over.

We have all experienced the serious challenges involved in walking on Indian roads. Now imagine you are that old person.  Now think of walking on roads which lack pavements and have heavy and unregulated traffic driven by reckless and insensitive drivers. While you are looking both ways and dodging traffic, don’t forget to bend down and avoid all the wires and cables, thoughtlessly strung from poles, trees and buildings. Finally, remember to jump over the pits and trenches left open by various civic bodies.  All this when you are weak and feeble!

The dangers of walking around on Indian streets today prevent countless elders and disabled from leaving the relative safety of their homes.  Many of them forego their usual walks, their trips to places of worship, or even to banks and post offices to collect their pensions because of their fear of being run over or getting seriously injured.

BusStopNow take a look at the public transport available in your city.

The picture on the right shows the true story.  Look at how everyone is running to get into the bus.  Notice the slower ones struggling to reach the bus. Imagine now that you are an old person incapable of running!

Buses come swerving in at breakneck speed and stop somewhere in the vicinity of the bus stop, wait but for a few seconds and speed away before everyone has safely boarded.  With steep steps that only the young can jump onto, riding buses in India is meant only for the young and agile.

Trains are no better. Suburban trains,especially, are a challenge even for the young and nimble unless they are used to them.  If you go to Mumbai for example, unless you are a regular traveler, there is very little chance of making it on to any of the suburban trains during peak hours.  And if you do manage to get on, you may not be able to get off till the train reaches its last station! Long distance trains, though not as crowded, present us with other challenges.  Their steps are practically upright ladders that have to be negotiated to get into them.  If one is wheelchair bound, it is impossible to get on to the train at all, leave alone reach one’s seat, given how narrow the doors and passages are.

Chennai-CentralThis picture with the bent over old lady is a picture of the foot over bridge at the Chennai Central Railway station.  The picture says it all.

Next let us look at the insides public places and buildings.  Many banks, post offices and insurance buildings are in old buildings with no elevators.  Most of their offices are on the first or second floor with only stair access.  Even those that are on the ground floor require navigation of a few steps before the counters can be reached. Barring a few malls and upmarket cinemas, most places have either no toilet facilities (for the visiting patrons) or have extremely dirty ones that no one in their right mind will want to step into.  The lack of a token system  and the consequent need of having to stand in a long queues for several minutes to hours compound the problems faced by the elderly in public offices and buildings.

These are just some of the problems faced by our elders in India.  If you spot more such problems please write to info@oldisgoldstore.com.