It’s hard enough being an able-bodied pedestrian in Mumbai, with pavements crumbling or altogether missing, paver blocks laid unevenly and jutting out unexpectedly, and hawkers, shanties and parked vehicles forming obstructions at regular intervals.
Now imagine trying to navigate these footpaths when you’re in a wheelchair or cannot see. Imagine trying to get on and off and on again as an arthritic senior citizen. Imagine your worry as a parent of schoolgoing children walking to class every day.
It’s traumatic, if not impossible, for those with special needs to walk on Mumbai’s footpaths, say experts.
“All the problems faced by able-bodied people on our pavements naturally become magnified,” says Sam Taraporevala, associate professor of sociology and director of the Xavier’s Resource Centre for the Visually Challenged (XRCVC), who is visually-impaired himself. “Accessibility is a basic requirement, and it shouldn’t difficult to implement slight changes in design and maintenance to make the end-to-end experience more comfortable.”
Most pavements, for instance, do not have the gradual incline at either end to make access easier, especially for the physically challenged and visually impaired. “This is not only essential for the disadvantaged, but also for people with infants in strollers and for children,” says Sanjeeta Joshi, member of managing committee at Consumer Guidance Society of India. “Instead, old people with knee problems are forced to struggle on and off and on and off.”
Elsewhere, a lack of routine maintenance leaves paver tiles loose and uneven. Padma Rao, a senior citizen who walks with the help of a stick, said, “It’s uneven, and my walking stick gets stuck between the loose tiles.”
According to Vidyadhar Date, pedestrian rights advocate and author of Traffic in the Era of Climate Change. Walking, Cycling, Public Transport Need Priority, Mumbai needs a cultural change towards greater inclusion via infrastructure.
“European and American cities are very friendly to the disabled. Mumbai, like many other Indian cities, has yet to catch up. Cities should first be made child-friendly, and then everything else will follow. In New York, for example, you are given compensation if you trip on a pavement and injure yourself.”
BMC officials declined to comment.
“I understand that pavements have become a nuisance, but in the areas where the roads are maintained by the MMRDA, such as JP road in Andheri and the Andheri-Ghatkopar Link Road, this is mainly due to the ongoing Metro work. Once the project is completed, we will address all the issues,” said Dilip Kawatkar, spokesperson for the MMRDA. “Post March-2012, when most of the civil work on these roads is expected to be complete, we will include slopes to make these pavements suitable for those using wheelchairs and we will also ensure that we use the best quality material, as per the specifications laid down by the PWD norms.”