Make a difference: Click an accessible space for wheelchair users in the city

The #findwheelchairaccessibleplaces campaign in Chennai is being launched on December 3rd, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities

As a wheelchair user, who likes to travel and go around the city, the biggest hurdle is navigating public spaces and using public transport to get around. As a member of the Disability Rights Alliance (DRA) in Chennai, I have taken part in accessibility audits and have been involved in different activities such as training wheelchair users for state and national-level competitions in a paralympic game called Boccia. Whenever we travel for all these activities, accessibility is the main challenge. Most of the public transport including buses and trains cannot be used by persons with physical disabilities, especially people who use wheelchairs.

While the Chennai Metro is an exception compared to other modes of transport, it also falls a little short of being fully accessible. Disability rights campaigners have been working with Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL) to make it 100 percent usable for persons with disabilities. We are hoping it will happen soon. We have been fighting for accessible and inclusive public transport mainly buses, trains, metro rail and so on.

Apart from public transport, buildings need to follow accessibility norms, so that a person with disabilities can independently travel and live without being dependent on other people. I love taking part in adventure activities like scuba-diving and parasailing and would like to see more persons with disabilities taking part in such activities.

One of our biggest triumphs in Chennai has been the ‘accessible beach campaign’ — the concerted efforts of disability rights activists led to the Marina beach becoming totally accessible to wheelchair users.

Read more: Why persons with disability are unhappy with Chennai Metro

Campaign to find wheelchair accessible places

Against this backdrop, I decided that I needed to do something to create awareness about spaces which are inclusive and friendly to wheelchair users. Since a majority of buildings and public spaces have accessibility issues, I wanted to identify and create a database of places in the city that can be accessed by persons with disabilities, especially wheelchair users. I have been thinking about this for the last three months and I came upon the idea of starting a campaign that will help me track these places.

As International Day of Persons with Disabilities is observed on December 3rd, I thought it would be a good idea to launch this campaign on this day. I worked with a few of my friends who supported me to make the poster and finally, I am launching my campaign on Sunday.

campaign poster
This campaign, which is being launched on December 3, aims to find wheelchair accessible places in Chennai. Pic courtesy: Sathish Kumar

Through this campaign, I want people to take photos of whichever places they come across that are accessible to wheelchair users and along with that create a Google map location link; post these together on their social media and add #findwheelchairaccessibleplaces and also tag my Youtube channel and social media handles.

What you need to do:

First take three to four photos of a place that can be accessed by wheelchair users and then mark the Google map location link of that place. Then upload the photos with a short description of the place, along with the Google map location link. Finally tag #SathishOnWheels and #findwheelchairaccessibleplaces to your post and submit.

What you need to look for:

Accessible toilets, ramps, lifts, wide door entrances and reserved parking availability

Where to find these places:

Hotels, malls, government offices, theatres, parks and recreation spots.

Read more: When a child with special needs got lost in Chennai

Mapping of wheelchair accessible places

The ultimate goal behind this campaign is to do a mapping of all the wheelchair-friendly places in the city, so that it will help other people with physical disabilities. This campaign is not limited to persons with disabilities, anybody can take part and upload pictures.

For privacy reasons, if people do not want to post the photos on their social media accounts, they can send it to me directly on my social media account @sathishonwheels on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or my Youtube channel and I will post it with or without their name according to their preference.

This campaign will be a great help for persons with disabilities looking for inclusive spaces. They can search the place name along with this hashtag and they will know if it is accessible or not. The idea is to create a map of all the accessible places in the city. When more and more people contribute, more people will benefit from this exercise.

In most Google map photos that are posted online, people do not focus on the accessibility issues but I want to focus only on wheelchair accessibility because even among persons with disabilities, the needs of a visually-impaired or hearing impaired person is different from that of a wheelchair user.

If all infrastructure and transport was geared towards accessibility and inclusivity, persons with disabilities would not have to be dependent on caregivers, friends and family members to travel and navigate different places. This campaign aims to make a small contribution towards making that change.

Also read:

[The article was written with assistance from Sahana Charan, Chapter Editor at Citizen Matters Chennai]

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