How To Make India Accessible For The Deaf

Accessibility is a word generally associated with a wheelchair user but what about the deaf. How can we make India more accessible for them? Our deaf expert, Dr Alim Chandani, lists down the problems they face and everything that can be done to overcome them. Read on…

PS: If you don’t understand sign language, click on the subtitle option in the videos. You can also read the article, it is the transcript of the videos

Brought onto Earth completely deaf, my extensive travelling experience began when I was a 3-year-old travelling solo, on a flight. Of course, this could not have happened if it weren’t for my parents, who trusted me enough to allow me to go alone at such a young age. In 2001, a small group of deaf friends and I, travelled to Europe. That was one of the top highlights in my life. One of the biggest reasons was because I faced numerous obstacles during my trip, and I overcame every single one.

When I moved to India eight months ago, I knew the accessibility challenges I would face as a deaf person. But with the advancement of technology, and with the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (RPWD) becoming a law in December 2016, things have become more accessible for us. However, we need to educate and spread awareness on how to make travel more accessible for the deaf.

This blog post is a great opportunity for you to read and think about various scenarios on how we can improve accessibility for the deaf, together.

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#1 Airports, Train Stations, Local Metro/Bus Stations

Once, while flying out on business, I walked to my boarding gate after the security check.  Seeing that I had plenty of time, I went to grab something to eat. When I walked back to my gate, I discovered to my chagrin that my gate had changed. It was now at the opposite end of where I was. I had to run all the way to the new gate, and I missed my flight by mere minutes.

Often and understandably so, things change. That’s normal. That’s perfectly fine. But there is a problem—when they change, they do so through voice announcements, which would require using functional ears. But how are the deaf to receive updated information?

Proposed Solutions

1) Information Desk/Ticket Counter:

A deaf individual can go to the information desk to get updates and convey that you need an assistant to guide and alert you of any changes.
Note: Admittedly, this is not ideal for deaf individuals who pride themselves on being independent, but it is an idea.

2) SMS/Text Messages:

It would be ideal if we could receive text messages when we purchase a transportation ticket. This feature would be perfect, as travel representatives and agents could send us a TEXT indicating announcements and updates.

Note: This could be a problem as not everyone has a phone that can accept SMS messages.

3) Airport App:
I am not sure if such an app exists, but it should. All the airports should be listed and any announcements made would appear in the app in your preferred language. (Doesn’t this sound so cool?)

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#2 Taxis/Radio Cabs

Often, when I request for an app-based pick-up, I’d receive phone calls and I would have to hang up because I could not answer the phone, because, of course, I’m deaf. And once I’d hung up, the driver would cancel me on spot because most times they would require me to answer the call to confirm the ride. If I saw a stranger nearby, I’d run quickly to ask for assistance to confirm my pick-up. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve got an awkward look for this request!

Uber and OLA have been a huge game-changer for the deaf community, but they are not deaf-friendly. How can we reserve a pick-up on our own when they keep calling to confirm the location for our pick-up?

Suggested Solutions

1) The apps should offer a Text Only option so that drivers know they are to text us as opposed to calling us up.

2) We could also have an option in our profiles where a specific colour categorises us as deaf so that drivers are aware that the client to be picked up is deaf. (They do have a special signal assigned for deaf drivers so customers are aware of it.)

3) A translation button can be added so our changes for communication can be read by the driver in a regional language.

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#3 Restaurants

Scenario 1:

I’m a big foodie, and I get all sorts of recommendations for popular restaurants. Some of the swanky ones require reservations. I have no problems making reservations online, but the issue is they often call to confirm the reservation, but I could not do so because I am deaf. This would lead to cancellation of my reservation, leading to a lot of frustration.

Proposed Solutions

1) Allow us to provide an email address or text number as our preferred contact information for follow ups and reservation confirmation.

2) Have an animated avatar on their website to use sign language to confirm the reservations.

Scenario 2:

Here’s another scenario, and this one usually happens at night. Restaurants would dim their lights to make the atmosphere more regal and romantic. I would come in, request a table (a notepad and pen on standby for all restaurants need to be mandatory) in an area where there is more light so that I could talk with my family and friends via sign language. I would get discriminated constantly as they would elect to ignore my request or be unwilling to adjust the atmosphere. I would be left with no choice but to leave because, after all, who would want to sit down for dinner when you cannot even communicate?

Ideas:

1) Dedicate an area for the light to be lit fully for the Deaf.

2) Provide a mini-lamp on the table when the deaf party requests it.

3) Download  an app that is strong enough to be a proxy lamp that also offers us an option to adjust the brightness with our phone!

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#4 Tourist Spots, Museums, Sightseeing

I have a keen interest in history and stories when I visit museums or go sightseeing to new places. But often, places I go to are not accessible as they offer only audio tours, films without captions or subtitles, and tour guides that include no interpreters. To rectify the problem, I would go to the information desk to ask for a transcript, but they would not have any.

Possible Solutions

1) All places should offer a transcript or an app that includes transcripts of information they offer.

2) All museums should provide transcripts of films and audio tours. Even better, add English and Hindi subtitles to all films.

3) Create an app similar to ‘Sign my Tour’ where deaf individuals (must emphasise this since they are the ones who are experts in signing stories) can share background stories in sign language on historical monuments or museum exhibitions.

4) Sign with descriptions should have QR codes for smart phones. The QR code could capture and display text descriptions, sign language descriptions, or audio descriptions of that particular monument.

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#5 Hotels, Lodges, Airbnbs

Scenario 1:

I was invited to give a presentation at a camp in Kerala, so I booked a hotel room on my phone. Later, I received a call on my phone from an unknown number. Late at night, after attending and having given a rousing presentation, I headed for the hotel. I wanted to relax and unwind in a soft, comfy bed with a cup of hot lemon and ginger tea. However, I found out that the hotel had cancelled my reservation because I didn’t confirm through phone. They had called thrice and thought I didn’t need the room so they had given it to someone else. No comfy, warm bed! No hot tea! Luckily, the hotel next door had a room that I booked into. This is a major challenge for deaf travellers who want to book hotel rooms in India.

How Can We Solve This

Confirm via email as an alternative option. Once a person books a hotel online, it should be the person’s responsibility to follow up on the confirmation whether by email or on a call. If the person doesn’t show up, charge their card!

Scenario 2:

Another problem is accessibility in hotels in India. We cannot hear doorbells if someone rings the bell to drop the baggage or for room service. We cannot order room service because we cannot speak or hear via phone. Even more terrifying, what if a fire emergency occurred, and we needed to get out. How would we know?

Achievable Outcomes

1) Create a kit that would have equipment to make the room accessible for the deaf. A flashing light plugged into the wall.

2) As for phone calls, hotel staff at the desks could offer a WhatsApp number to deaf consumers as a way to communicate with them for room service and other purposes.

3) As for fire emergencies, there is a requirement of having a fire alarm in each room, however an accessible fire alarm would have a flashing light along with the noise signal.

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I hope you read these and take them into careful consideration and thought. I have had a lifetime’s worth of experience dealing with barriers as a deaf individual, so I know I speak on the behalf of the deaf community in India when I detail these travel issues we face. And with Enable Travel, I look forward to improving the quality of accessibility for the deaf, together we will open doors with clear, flashing light bulbs as opposed to ringing bells!

That was our expert Alim for you! Still have questions or your own stories to share? Comment below and let us know!

Alim Chandani

Dr. Alim Chandani, is currently the Associate Vice President of Centum—GRO initiative, which focuses on skilling the Deaf for advanced employment opportunities in India. He has graduated with a Doctorate Degree in Special Education Management from Gallaudet University in Washington DC.

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