20 July 2010
By Revathi Ramanan
Second Master Plan For Chennai Held A Lot Of Promise For The Disabled But Public Places Still Remain A Challenge For Them
They try to forget it, but the disabled–unfriendly city reminds them of the challenge at hand, every day.
Getting to work is a task for Karthik S. The 26–year–old with muscular dystrophy is steadily losing the ability to walk. "I take the MRTS (Mass Rapid Transport System) everyday. Often, the escalators at the stations remain grounded and I am forced to climb the stairs. Most stations do not have ramps," he says. Karthik is one of the many disabled people in the city who have trouble accessing public buildings.
According to the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority’s (CMDA) second master plan, released in May 2010, "all schools, religious buildings, museums, art galleries, libraries, bus terminals, railway stations should have ramps for disabled people at the entrance with proper signage, a special restroom as specified by the National Building Code and special parking space for the disabled in every building". But the city rarely walks the talk on being disabled–friendly. No MRTS station has a restroom for the disabled; most do not have ramps. Bus terminals do not have seats let alone ramps.
Strangely, even places frequented by the disabled like the office of the state commissioner for the disabled and employment exchanges do not comply with the norms. The state commissioner’s office is on the first floor of a building with no elevators.
The MRTS, though not as popular as the suburban services, attracts quite a lot a of passengers.
But the construction of most of the stations – Kasturba Nagar, Greenways Road, Indira Nagar – is incomplete. "There are times when the elevator at the MRTS station gets stuck. So I avoid it," says Karthik. "The MRTS projects have not been completed. They should have started functioning only after ramps and other facilities were in place. In the case of bus stands and terminals, local bodies are in charge," says CMDA chief planner C Palanivelu. Even the CMDA building in Egmore has only one floor with a restroom for the disabled. The recently built ramps are extremely steep.
Many schools and colleges too don’t have ramps or special restrooms for the disabled. Most corporation schools have ramps "because corporation schools have to accept anyone, disabled or not", says Palanivelu.
"Most people think just a ramp is enough," says Ragesh GR who suffers from residual polio in both legs. Ragesh, who is 65% disabled, says small gestures like providing parking spaces close to the building, lift buttons at a lower levels and railings on both sides of staircases help a lot.
"In the first master plan, no provisions were made for disabled people and hence none of the old buildings are accessible. The buildings that will follow the second master plan should be accessible as we have made provisions," says Palanivelu. "More architects are building disabled–friendly structures nowadays that comply with the National Building Code," he says.
But for people like Ragesh and Karthik, these are just words that never translate into action.
An Uphill Task For A Smooth Passage
The second master plan of CMDA mandates the following measures in public buildings to ensure a barrier–free environment for the disabled
- Every building should have at least one entrance for the disabled, which can be approached through a ramp. It should have a landing in front of the doorway
- The ramp should not be steep and must have a minimum width of 1.5m with handrails. The ramp surface should not be slippery
- Parking space for at least two cars should be provided near the entrance for the disabled and it shouldn’t be more than 30m away from the entrance. The parking space should be properly indicated
- There should be at least one restroom for the disabled
- Among the lifts in the building, at least one should be able to carry a wheel chair