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Ambulifts, tactile tiles, low desks to turn Kolkata airport disabled-friendly (Accessibility)

 KOLKATA: When octagenarian S N Mazumdar requested for a wheelchair at Kolkata airport, little did he know how unpleasant the experience would be. Though the airline did organise a wheelchair, an attendant parked him next to the waste bin and sauntered off. With no provision to use the wheelchair on his own, Mazumdar had to plead with another passenger to wheel him to another spot. The attendant did return when the boarding began but there wa more embarrassment in store. Three more attendants came over and carried the wheelchair with him seated up the aircraft step ladder. “I didn’t know where to hide my shame at being treated like an invalid. I am perfectly capable of doing everything myself. The mobility difficulty that I face requires a wheelchair that I can negotiate myself,” he pointed out. Asif Iqbal, who is visually challenged, knows how difficult it is for persons with disabilities to travel through airports. In 2011, a private airline had denied him boarding till he signed an indemnity bond as hewas travelling alone. “I am not dependant but made to be so due to lack of sensitivity and poor infrastructure. Why can’t I travel the way others do?” he wondered. The woes that many passengers with reduced mobility face while travelling appears to have been heard by the airport authorities who say they intend to address the issues within a year and have already set the ball rolling with a stakeholders’ meeting to sensitise people and identify the hurdles. “We have begun the process of upgrading the facilities to provide barrier-free transit to passengers with reduced mobility. Every passenger should be able to negotiate through the airport by oneself without having to seek assistance. We want to ensure that people with reduced mobility can travel with dignity,” airport director Kaushik Bhattacharjee told TOI. Bhattacharjee’s team has already identified infrastructure deficiencies and has committed to address them. Dedicate car parking facility will be provided near the terminal for people with reduced mobility. Tactile floor tiles will help the visually impaired make one’s way from the entrance to the check-in counter, security check and boarding gate. Airport staff will be trained to communicate with the hearing and speech impaired. Low-height check-in desks will replace the current ones so that people in wheelchair can interact with airline ground staff. Washrooms will be upgraded to ensure ease of use by disabled passengers. Airlines will also be asked to either provide boarding ramps like IndiGo or make an ambulift available. “Infrastructural development work will be taken up in phases. Right from parking spaces and ramps on city side kerb to the boarding point, including ticketing and check-in counters, corridors, eateries, railings, rest rooms, guiding and warning tactile tiles and signage, everything will be reviewed and modified, wherever required. Similar facilities will be provided on arrival too,” said Kolkata airport general manager (civil) Pankaj Gupta. At present, the rudimentary facility that is available for the disabled is focused on passengers using wheelchairs, who comprise 19% of the disabled population. An equal number of disabled are visually impaired while around 26% suffer from hearing and speech impairment. While the airport will appoint a consultant to suggest ways to ring in the changes, it is also drawing up a programme to train its staff as well as immigration and Customs officers and airline officials.