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Taj Mahal becomes disabled-friendly

People with disability will now be able to take a closer, more intimate look at the magnificent monument to love thanks to the construction of nine ramps at various points in the complex

The luminous 17th century marble tribute to love built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in Agra is India’s most popular monument, attracting over 2.5 million visitors annually. But all these years, disabled visitors -- as many as 25 turn up at the Taj every day -- could only gaze at it from the entrance because nobody had taken their special needs into consideration.  

Now, finally, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has responded to the needs of physically challenged tourists by constructing nine ramps at various points in the complex. Besides this, a dozen wheelchairs will also be made available to enable the physically challenged to move easily and conveniently around the Taj grounds. 

“As many as 25 physically challenged tourists visit the Taj daily. Now that people know that the Taj has become disabled-friendly, more such tourists are likely to visit the monument,” says Munazzar Ali, an ASI official at the Taj. 

The Taj Mahal, which is listed among the seven wonders of the world, was visited by an estimated 2,048,120 domestic and 491,351 foreign tourists in 2006. “Foreign tourists usually come with their own motorised wheelchairs and freely move around without assistance. But domestic tourists use the wheelchairs provided by us. Nine ramps of different sizes and lengths have been constructed, the longest one being 48 feet,” Ali adds.

Because of the Taj, Agra is the country’s top tourist destination both for domestic and foreign visitors, according to the Ministry of Tourism’s annual publication India Tourism Statistics

Agra is a relatively disabled-friendly city with facilities and opportunities for rehabilitation of both the mentally and physically challenged. While the government’s efforts have been largely confined to opening schools for the physically challenged and fixing job quotas in the public sector, the city’s NGOs and philanthropists have helped fill the gap.  
Rita Agarwal’s TEARS, a school for people with disabilities founded almost two decades ago, provides help to parents of disabled children. The school for the blind at Soor Sarovar also helps disabled students acquire skills and an education.

Likewise, the government school in Vijay Nagar colony for the deaf and dumb has been imparting education to physically challenged children from poor families. 

Social activist Mukesh Jain, who started up a health helpline, says: “There was a time when people with physical disabilities were looked down upon and often sidelined. But now society is becoming more open and tolerant. With expert help from specialists, many disabilities are better managed today.” 

“The chief cause of the rising incidence of physical disability is road accidents. As the number of vehicles on our roads shoots up so too do the number of accidents,” says medical activist Sanjay Chaturvedi. 

The new facilities for the disabled will add to the Taj and Agra’s popularity and accessibility in a country where it is extremely difficult to find public places, government or private, that provide easy accessibility to people with disabilities.

The routine denial of basic rights of the disabled all across the country -- whether it be access to buildings or priority access to safety routes during an emergency -- is cause for concern. Wasim, a visually impaired English translator working with the Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled in Bangalore says: “We do not have access to all the floors of public buildings. And rarely do we find a helping hand on our visits to public places.”

Frequent power cuts too make life extremely difficult for the disabled. P S Chandrashekar, a visually impaired sports person, says: “In case of a power break-down, the lifts do not work. Consequently, we have to take the stairs and the situation gets worse when there is nobody around to help us.”  

Sanjeev Sheel, managing secretary of the Anchal Charitable Trust, says that in spite of the People with Disabilities (PWD) Act 1995 and schemes available for the disabled they are unable to avail of the facilities. “Government departments seem to have no knowledge of these schemes,” he says.  

Source: IANS, December 3, 2008
             The Indian Express, December 3, 2008
             IANS, July 25, 2008