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Accessibility & Inclusion

April 30, 2014

Due to a recent ski injury on my left knee, I have had limited mobility for a few weeks now. I spent the first two weeks (which coincided with my birthday too) working from home, travelling by taxis if necessary and generally moping about my situation – I am embarrassed to admit that I whinged about having to cancel a couple of weekend getaways (talk about a first world problem).

Recently, I decided to stop cancelling trips and just go for some planned trips to Amsterdam and Vienna. I learnt to appreciate the wonderful infrastructure in the various airports and the Eurostar for wheelchair provision, ramps and faster processing of queues. I had never paid very much attention to these facilities until now, and I am very impressed.

I grew up in India where, it’s safe to generalise, accessibility and inclusion are NOT top of mind for the public or for planners. Broadly speaking, the culture allows people with disabilities to be marginalised; often, pity is the best reaction they can hope for, rather than respect. The infrastructure is not planned keeping in mind enablers for people with limited mobility, vision or hearing – good luck finding ramps in public spaces or beeping traffic lights in India. It is perhaps of this cultural context that I am always pleasantly stunned at the relative level of independence disabled people enjoy in this part of the world (I realise this may be a controversial statement to make, so I brace myself). For instance, before moving out of India, I would never thought possible for a blind person to navigate public transport independently, but TfL has a support system for this. While there is no denying that there is a long way to go, even in this part of the world, to fully include people with physical or other limitations, I just wanted to express appreciation for what I have experienced in these past few days in my temporary situation of limited mobility.

On the other hand, I have also seen the harsher side of living in a city always on the fast-track; as someone who always enjoyed the fast pace, I never fully understood the downside for those who cannot keep up. I got nearly mobbed by the rush hour crowd at Euston station because of my slow pace when I foolishly took a train to client offices before I was more healed. Shockingly, I also did not have anyone offer me a seat during the only tube ride I took in the last 6 weeks despite my very obvious and visible knee brace; it was only two stops so I did not bother creating a fuss either. At least this has taught me a lesson on being more empathetic in the future and to look up from my book/iPad/nap to notice someone who may need a seat more than I do.

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