Nagaraj, a Lingarajapuram-based graphic designer and a physically disabled person, would love to visit a mall in the city just like many Bangaloreans do when they have some free time. But he is physically disabled. And as most of the malls in the city do not provide adequate facilities for the disabled, an evening of leisure could become really challenging.
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Forum Mall (courtesy: Wikimedia)
Most malls in Bangalore are not disabled-friendly. Building Bye-Laws 2003 of the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike, state that all public and semi-public buildings are obliged to provide certain basic amenities for the benefit of disabled patrons. A recent analysis of shopping malls in the city showed that several such facilities do not exist on their premises, making disabled persons dependent on others to help them make their way around the building. The laws are available online in the BBMP website at: (http://bmponline.org/jdtp/blaw.pdf)
Some of the basic facilities that are expected to exist in places such as shopping malls are ramps for wheelchair access, specially-designed restrooms, and designated parking slots.
According to the bye-laws, the list of amenities to be provided, include:
- Space for use of wheelchairs, taking the standard size of a wheelchair to be 1050mm X 750mm.
- Surface parking with maximum travel distance of 30 metres from the entrance of the building.
- At least one entrance with approach through a ramp with a minimum width of 1.8 metres and a gradient of 1:10.
- Proper signage
- Hand rails for ramps, staircases, lifts and toilets
These are just some of the specifications. The entire list if there in the bye-laws, in pages 78 and 79, Schedule 12. Citizens may access it on the link provided above. Interestingly, the bye-laws do not provide a definition of disability.
In my survey, I found that while most of the malls did possess some of the required facilities, none of them had all, which ultimately made complete accessibility impossible. While provisioning amenities for disabled citizens, even if one or two aspects are missed out, then access to the facility itself could break down, and hence comprehensiveness is key.
For instance, Garuda mall at the intersection of Magarath and Commissariat Road in the city, is built at two levels – one level that begins from the road and a series of steps creating the next level that leads into the shopping mall. A ramp for wheelchair access, at only one of two entrances, begins from the second level only. Wheelchair access from the pavement is not available.
Tarak Trivedi, a marketing executive at the mall says that this problem is overcome by bringing the disabled patron into the mall using the ramps in the parking lot. However, there are no clear signs to indicate the same. The mall has bathrooms for the disabled on every floor. However, I noticed that fully capable maintenance staff was using this facility. Lifts are provided on every floor to escort those in wheelchairs to the other floors.
Sigma mall on Cunningham Road has wheelchair access directly into the mall. Its lifts are also spacious enough to accommodate a wheelchair-user. However it has no parking or restroom provision for the disabled. Mall supervisor, R K Rai says that one such bathroom used to exist on the fourth floor.
What about the award-winning Forum mall in Koramangala? Ramps are present at the entrances and parking for the disabled being available. Wheelchairs, if necessary, are also provided to patrons on request. T G Vinod, Deputy General Manager of Mall Operations, says that Forum does not compromise on disability amenities on their premises. However, the signage at the mall was not very clear with it being difficult to read where the disabled bathrooms were located. Vinod admits this is a problem, and says that Forum is looking to procure a reflective paint that is easily visible even from a distance. As a temporary measure, a light has been focussed on the sign. Mall authorities acknowledge that this is not an effective solution.
Eva mall, locate near the beginning of Hosur Road, had most of the primary requirements for physically disabled shoppers. It has parking and washrooms facilities especially for the disabled as well as accessibility at the main entrance, with anti-slip features. However, its restrooms lack the rails necessary to assist a disabled user and its washbasins are not in accordance with their requirements.
Das Suryawanshi, State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities
#40, Thambuchetty Road, Cox Town
Ph: 080-2548 2640 Fax: 080-2548 2641
Das Suryawanshi, Secretary and Commissioner for People with Disabilities under the Government of Karnataka, says that a Nodal Committee Meeting generally takes place once in the city in every three months. However, he also adds that the last one was held in July 2007. The committee has a mandate to ensure that buildings in the city were complying with the requirements to be disabled-friendly and issue notices to facilities where there is failure in compliance. These notices are then followed up. However, Das admits that the process of change has been slow.