Is “accessible” accessible enough?

Published on: May 10, 2017

Officials from CIL-Kathmandu and Sajha yatayat poses infront of a bus after monitoring

Commuting in Nepal can be difficult; roads are uneven, public transport is crowded and weather conditions are unpredictable. Now consider this without the use of your legs, or your eyes or ears. Individuals with disabilities in Nepal face barriers every day, both physical and social. It’s a long journey to completely break down barriers in Nepal, however one step in the right direction was the release of 30 disabled-friendly buses last year into the Kathmandu Valley by Sajha Yatayat. Each disabled-friendly bus features a wheelchair-accessible door, a retractable ramp and has capacity to accommodate 2 wheelchairs.

In early May, the CIL-Kathmandu team ventured out onto the streets to get a sense of how effective these new disability-friendly buses were. The group was made up mostly of wheel-chair-users, each with a personal attendant for support (a luxury many disabled people live without), and what they found was varied, but overall quite positive. They found that the Sajha Yatayat staff had a great attitude toward disabled passenger- always stopping to open the ramp and assist them onto the bus. The ramp itself however, has some design limitations making its usability rather clunky. The extreme incline of the ramp made it near impossible for wheelchair users to enter the bus independently, and it was frequently covered in a thick layer of dirt, meaning that their hands also became filthy after boarding the bus. Also reported was that the ramp did not completely align with the footpath, so further assistance was required for wheelchair users to even board the ramp itself.

Once inside, the CIL-Kathmandu team reported that there was ample floor-space for wheelchairs, however, in many buses the safety belts in the wheelchair area were broken. The use of the belt is very important for wheelchair users as it prevents them from sliding around on the bus and causing injury to themselves or others.

The inside of the buses were also lacking features to aid travelers with earing and visual impairments. They require different methods of being notified that their stop is approaching, such as a visual screen and an audio announcement. The last thing noted as missing on the inside of the buses was designated seating for persons with disabilities (for those not using wheelchairs). There are a wide variety of disabilities, some visable, some not, all of which can make somrhign like a bus journey incredible stressful and exhausting- this could be helped significantly by having a seat designated for persons with disabilities.

The other dominant piece of feedback that resulted from the audit was that with only 30 buses accessible to persons with disabilities there is a large range of areas within Kathmandu and Lalitpur that people with disabilities are unable to access via public transport. CIL-Kathmandu staff suggested that a wider variety of routes for disability-friendly buses is necessary as currently the Sajha Yatayat buses only travel along a limited cross section of the city.

CIL-Kathmandu has recently presented these findings to Sajha Yatayat and are hoping to see suggested changes implemented in the near future.