By Misbah Ul:
The last few months have witnessed massive expansion of App-based cab services in Indian cities, mainly Uber and Ola which has drastically changed the traditional mode of transportation not only for the ‘normal’ persons but a hitherto not too visible group; the visually impaired persons.
A minuscule segment of the visually impaired community has fortunately gained access to fairly better educational amenities largely limited to metropolitan cities. We are able to effectively use smartphones (Touch Phones) enabled with voice-over and Talkback, thanks to non-discriminatory laws which has made it mandatory for all public and some of the private service providers (especially in the USA) to include accessibility features which are a necessity in modern gadgets.
App-based cabs significantly contributed in doing away with nightmarish experiences which visually persons used to face while going outside and looking for public transportation which are still largely inaccessible to persons with disabilities.
Before the coming of these taxi services, my fellow visually impaired friends and I who travelled together to either go to the office or college/school used to be completely dependent on public transport like buses and auto rickshaws.
I wouldn’t hesitate to add here that these modes of transport are made for able-bodied persons who’s expected to run and catch the bus or can easily locate the empty seat in a crowded bus but for someone like me who can’t manage these things, day to day travel becomes challenging and sometimes frustrating.
The key fault lies with the drivers and conductors who aren’t trained towards the special needs of passengers with disability.
I would like to talk about one of my own experiences. Once I was going to my university and took a bus. Despite the fact that low floor buses now have public announcement facilities, the drivers consider them of no use and keep them switched off, and because of that, I have had to ask my fellow passengers several times about my de-boarding bus stand. When I finally reached the destination, the driver because of traffic and his insensitivity, stopped the bus in the middle of the road and asked me to de-board.
When I left the bus and moved towards the pavement, several vehicles were running on both sides of me. I was petrified and thought that this could be my last moments as I stood there for several minutes and waited for someone’s help, at last thankfully a kind woman helped me reach the pavement.
I have been using these cab service apps for several months and find life more comfortable now while venturing out. Uber taxis use Google Maps while navigating which have inbuilt screen readers because of which I easily know where and which side we are heading towards.
After booking a cab one can even contact the driver by calling him/her, through this I often use to let him know in advance that I’m not able to see and he would have to find me through my pick-up Location and other information which I provide him with.
Though this app-based taxis are providing good services to millions of customers but there’s still scope for improvement when it comes to persons with disability.
First of all they may let their drivers know in advance while creating their accounts that there may be a person with disability as well and they have to cooperate with them and help them according to their needs.
For example, after booking a cab, many drivers quietly reach the destination and think that the rider will automatically see the vehicle and will take it. They generally don’t expect that a visually impaired person who is standing at the pick-up location along with a white cane could also request for a taxi ride.
Secondly, they should drop persons with disability to their exact drop-location and not to a nearby one. Lastly, and most importantly they should keep their app accessible with voice-over and talk-back software, especially in the case of OLA.
The OLA app doesn’t have the accessibility feature of a voice-over so they should engage with an accessibility tester and make their apps usable and accessible with screen readers. The world is witnessing how modern technology is contributing in transforming the lives of not only able-bodied but disabled persons as well who have become more able to live a productive and dignified life.
In recent years, India is home to one of the largest population of persons with disability have also started to focus on the needs of persons with disability. Our prime minister Narendra Modi has launched the Accessible India campaign which is indeed an empowering step towards ensuring a happy and fulfilling life to its persons with disability.