This Bengaluru NGO is making India's railway stations blind-friendly
Over three years after making the Mysuru railway station India's first blind-friendly station, the NGO Anuprayaas continues to make public spaces more accessible to disabled people. Since their inception in 2014, Anuprayaas has helped convert Mumbai's Borivali station, Bengaluru's KRS station, the Mysore-Varanasi Express, and a blind school in Mysuru, into blind-friendly, while also educating people on accessibility and inclusion. Here's their story.
What does the NGO Anuprayaas do?
The Bengaluru-based NGO Anuprayaas, which was founded by Pancham Cajla, aims to "provide facilities/solutions at public places speciﬁcally at Railway Stations for the visually impaired," enabling them to commute easily without the need to rely on help from strangers. Anuprayaas also conducts sensitization workshops to raise awareness in schools, colleges, corporate and public offices under their 'Disability Etiquette and Awareness Program'.
Pancham, along with wife, Shakti, founded Anuprayaas
Speaking to The Better India, Pancham, who hails from Chandigarh, said that he has always helped out the blind, volunteering as a scribe for them back in school. He went on to become a mechanical engineer and worked at Infosys for four years before quitting in 2014. He volunteered with local NGOs and in November 2014, founded Anuprayaas along with his wife Shakti Cajla.
Here's how Anuprayaas got to transforming railway stations
Pancham's friend, Diwakar, who is blind, had a terrible experience at the Mysuru Railway station. He waited for his train for hours, but later discovered that his train left as scheduled, but from a different platform, BTI reports. With notifications flashing on boards he couldn't see and audio announcements drowned amid the noise, Diwakar was helpless. Pancham describes Diwakar's experience as his "trigger point."
10.6 million blind in India; only 3% public spaces accessible
According to the last 2001 Census, nearly 22 million people in India are disabled, including 10.6 million blind persons. However, in 2018, the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD) reported that only 3% of public spaces in India are accessible to the disabled.
Pancham approached authorities, who agreed to help
Soon, Pancham found himself pitching an idea to the Divisional Railway Manager (DRM) to make the railway station blind-friendly. "I 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," Pancham told TBI. He then visited blind schools to research what changes were required.
People aren't sensitized enough to help the blind: Shakti Cajla
Speaking about how they devised the plan, Anuprayaas co-founder Shakti Cajla told TBI, "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 sensitized enough to assist them properly."
Phase I was inaugurated back in November 2015
Anuprayaas crowdfunded the money and worked with south-western railways, architects, researchers, and volunteers to complete Phase I of the project in November 2015. Phase I included: 400 metallic braille signages to help with directions, braille train itinerary signage on each platform (no real-time information), braille menu cards in station restaurants, and tactile maps. The expenses were reportedly reimbursed by the government through MPLADS later.
'Anuprayaas' also sells merch to become self-sustainable
Hoping to become self-sustainable Anuprayaas now sells merchandise under the label BrailleMate including, T-shirts, posters, wall decor, etc. Through BrailleMate, Anuprayaas generates awareness about the cause and also raises funds to keep pushing for more accessible public spaces for the disabled community.