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This Bengaluru Couple Makes Railway Stations Better For The Visually Impaired!

This Bengaluru Couple Makes Railway Stations Better For The Visually Impaired!

“I love to travel alone. This initiative has helped solo women travelers like me since we don’t have to depend on others to ask for directions all the time,’ says a visually-impaired teacher at Blind School, Mysuru.

Diwakar was very excited to visit his hometown to meet his family. He was supposed to board his train from Mysuru Railway station. He waited for almost three hours at the railway platform only to find out that the train had left on time but from a different platform.

Being visually impaired, he had no access to the indicator that flashed the platform number for his train, and he missed out the announcement in the cacophony of sounds around him. The incident left him agitated as he had failed to meet his family during the holidays.

He called his close friend, Pancham Cajla, to convey his sadness.

This was in August 2015.

Three months later, Mysuru Railway station grabbed eyeballs for becoming the first blind-friendly railway station in India.

Sounds like a magical story, doesn’t it?

Well, it is and a little beyond that!

When Pancham, a mechanical engineer and a former Infosys employee, tried to calm his friend down it was to no avail. Pancham, the man behind India’s first blind-friendly railway station tells The Better India (TBI),

Diwakar kept on debating about inclusivity and accessibility in India’s public spaces, and I tried to tell him that we will do something else to help the disabled. But he countered by saying that a much stronger impact is needed. That is when I thought about bringing a difference starting from railway stations.

Pancham, originally from Chandigarh, has been helping the visually impaired since his school days. He used to volunteer as a scribe for exams. His volunteering efforts resulted in him befriending a lot of sight-challenged people.

When he moved to Mysuru, Pancham continued volunteering with local NGOs and finally in 2014, he devoted himself to this cause and started his NGO, Anuprayaas, along with wife Shakti Cajla, to empower people with disabilities. Sharad Gupta and Rashid AP joined as mentor and senior employee respectively.

Anuprayaas team

Every time you buy Anuprayaas product, the proceedings from the sales are utilised to make schools and public spaces blind-friendly. Check out their products at The Better India shop here

“I have always been aware of their day-to-day struggles and challenges. But Diwakar’s incident was the trigger point for me,” Pancham shares.

After listening to Diwakar, he headed straight to the Divisional Railway Manager (DRM) of Mysuru railway station to propose his idea of making the railway station blind-friendly.

I went without an appointment, wrote my idea on a piece of paper and gave to the DRM office. Even though we had no idea of executing the plan, the DRM agreed to support us, says Pancham.

The NGO visited several schools for the blind and NGOs to understand their requirements.

“From lack of navigation facilities, uneven flooring to the absence of ramps, public spaces including railway stations make it difficult for the visually impaired to travel independently. They do not want to ask for help all the time, and when they do, people are not sensitised enough to assist them properly. We considered all their demands and chalked out a plan accordingly,” Shakti, Anuprayaas’ co-founder tells TBI.

The NGO raised money via crowdfunding (that was later refunded by government through MPLAD funds) and kicked off the project. Experts from various fields including architects, researchers and Anuprayaas volunteers worked in unison to make the Mysuru Railway Station accessible for the blind in November 2015.

Lack of inclusivity often restricts visually impaired to travel by rail. Source: Flickr

The following features were added to the railway station:

  • Four hundred metallic Braille signs installed at about ten places on each platform. The signs are placed along the railing of the staircase to provide directions and platform information.
  • At the ticket counter, tactile maps are given to the visually challenged that consist of a physical layout of the station. The raised surfaces describe the distance and location of the entrance, platforms, counters, washrooms etc. Some of the maps are also given to the stalls on the station.
  • Train itinerary signboard that provides train names and their schedules in Braille. These are fixed signboards and do not provide real-time information like electronic boards.
  • Restaurants, canteens and food plazas in the railway station have Braille menu cards too.

Also ReadOnce Forced to Sleep on Streets, Visually-Impaired Son of Farmer Has Educated 2,500+ Blind Students

The response was overwhelming, especially from the visually impaired community.

Source: Twitter

I remember how helpless I felt at the Mysuru station when I was misguided. I was supposed to go to my hometown and ended up waiting at the wrong platform only to miss my train. I thank Anuprayaas for relaying our challenges to the railways and working on them, says Diwakar.

Anureen, a teacher at Blind School, Mysuru, says, “I love to travel alone. This initiative has helped solo women travellers like me since we don’t have to depend on others to ask for directions all the time.”

A happy Diwakar at the Mysuru Railway Station

Following Mysuru, the team converted the Borivali station in Mumbai and Bengaluru station too.

Travelling in a Mumbai local is not as easy for a blind commuter. We get pushed and misguided. People usually don’t have the time and patience to guide us. We mostly end up missing our trains and at times meet with accidents. This project will bring big relief to blind commuters, says Sagar Patil, an entrepreneur from Mumbai.

The NGO has also been instrumental in converting the Mysuru-Varanasi Express(16229/16230), into blind-friendly. The Braille-embedded train runs between Mysuru and Varanasi. 

First Blind-friendly train

Mysuru Member of Parliament Pratap Simha, through his Member of Parliament Local Area Development Fund, funded the initiative.

The NGO is now working on 14 railway stations to make it blind-friendly.

Empowering The Blind Community

The NGO is also working towards spreading awareness to empower the blind community

Besides, making the stations blind-friendly, the NGO also conducts awareness sessions in schools, corporates and public offices to sensitise people. Most of the projects undertaken by Anurprayas were funded through Corporate Social Responsibility, donations and crowdfunding. The NGO is now moving towards becoming self-sustainable.

It has now started selling merchandise called BrailleMate, and proceedings go towards emancipating the visually impaired.

Visually impaired volunteers are given training in basic marketing skills

Most of our merchandise is sold post the awareness sessions. The visually impaired handle the stalls. We give them training in basic marketing skills. They get very few opportunities to interact with people. We are breaking this via our merchandise like t-shirts, posters and so on with braille prints, says Shakti.

Adil, a Sales Intern at Anuprayaas, says, “I am thankful to Anuprayaas for providing me with an opportunity where I can go out and communicate with so many people. Before this, I had never had much interaction with people. It has helped me build my confidence.”

Every time you buy Anuprayaas product, the proceedings from the sales are utilised to make schools and public spaces blind-friendly. Check out their products at The Better India shop here

Get in touch with the NGO here.

(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)

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