"Sympathising with blind people is like wanting them to depend on you for longer and that is a sadistic mentality. Instead, we should work on how to make them feel independent," says 27-year-old Pancham Cajla, founder of Anuprayaas, a non-government organization that is working on making India's first blind-friendly railway station.
With help from south-western railway officials, Pancham Cajla and five of his friends started work on Mysuru railway station about a month ago. On November 3, the team inaugurated Phase I of the project. Two more phases are being planned. At present, it includes:
Metallic Braille signage which gives directions and platform information. They are installed in at least ten places on each platform.
Train itinerary signage on each platform, which shows train names and timings of the train, but these are fixed signs and do not provide real-time information as electronic signboards.
Braille menu cards in restaurants in the railway station.
Tactile map that would act as indicators of the physical layout of the railway station. For instance, a different construction material is used when a dead-end is approaching.
Arun Kumar Singh, Telecom engineer with the South-Western Railways was one of the officials who helped in the project's execution.
"As a part of the railway department, I went to organizations and met blind people. We asked them about what they would expect from a blind-friendly railway station," Singh said.
The signage is such that it tells people where they are, which side to turn and number of steps to take before they can reach a help desk.
"This is still in the trial stage, but it has been a success so far. As a part of phase I, we are still working on making braille labels for amenities like gents waiting rooms, ladies washroom etc.," says Pancham, who has brought a many of his visually impaired friends to try them out.
During the testing period, they got many visually impaired persons to check out the features. Most of them were college students in Mysuru.
"The first time I went to the railway station after Anuprayaas had the braille signs installed, I found it confusing. But after spending some time I could figure out the instructions. The next time I go I am sure I will not have to ask another person for information. I hope they improve on the facilities," said Divakar, a visually impaired II pre-university student and an athlete who has represented his school in state-level sports competitions.
In phase II of the project, which is expected to take a few months to finish, the NGO is planning to go digital and improvise on the tactile map. They are also planning to make the station more disabled-friendly by introducing more battery cars.
"We keep talking about digital India, but we don't talk about accessible India. With the help of technology, we can make every place accessible to people with any kind of disability. We are working how to use technology that is available abroad and install it here," said Pancham.