[AI] Making the Indian Railways more disabled-friendly

Kanchan Pamnani kanchanpamnani at gmail.com
Wed Jan 2 04:48:29 EST 2019


Making the Indian Railways more disabled-friendly

Virali Modi, 27, Disability rights activist IMG-20181226-WA0007 In 2008,
Virali Modi, who uses a wheelchair, was molested by two porters at a Mumbai
railway station as they carried her onto the train. "When we got inside the
compartment, the man holding my upper body wrapped his arms around my chest
and started touching and groping me," recalls Modi, adding that there was
"pin drop silence" from fellow commuters, who witnessed the abuse. "I
didn't say anything because I was scared they would drop me on the floor,"
she adds. Modi, who lives between Mumbai and Kansas City, was so worried
about being "slut shamed" that she endured the same abuse on two other
occasions without raising her voice. However, these incidents impressed on
her the need for railway stations to be made more accessible. So, in 2017,
she started #MyTrainToo, an online petition, which has garnered over
2,33,000 signatures to date. Her campaign caught the attention of a railway
official in Kerala, who embraced the cause. Currently, six stations in
Kerala have been fitted with portable ramps and narrow, aisle-size
wheelchairs. Modi, 27, became paralysed in 2006 in the US after numerous
lumbar punctures were performed in an effort to diagnose what she believes
was a bout of malaria. After waking up from a 23-day coma to find herself
paralysed from the neck down, Modi spiralled into depression, even
attempting suicide twice, because she was shunned by friends and family.
"My distant relatives discouraged their children from hanging out with me
by saying, 'Don't hang out with Virali or you will also become disabled,'"
she recalls. "So, I have faced that 'contagious wali' mindset." Modi, who
was runner up in a Ms. Wheelchair pageant, would like to pursue a career as
a model and actress but has found it difficult to break into the field
because of her disability. So for now, she is focusing on the campaign
#RampMyRestaurant, which aims to make eateries more accessible. "I hope to
create more awareness and acceptance," says Modi. "I want visibility for
those with disabilities in mainstream media, social and corporate spaces."
- Nergish Sunavala


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