Last week I was pleasantly surprised to discover the existence of a website called billionables ( http://www.billionables.com ). Among other things, this site systematically lists out cities, and then in these cities, places of interest, restaurants, markets, monuments, places of entertainment, etc. that are wheelchair accessible. This is something I have been longing to do for over a year. So happy to see someone has actually done it. At present the information available is somewhat sketchy and there are many empty slots. What it will take is for people like us to fill up the spaces one by one so that what we have in effect will be a wheelchair map of the country. The site also has helpful sections on travel. I thought I could supplement some of the information furnished so as to make it of more practical use.
Airlines all have a section in their websites on provisions for the disabled. It makes good sense to go through the provisions as not all airline staff are helpful. What you need to know is that wheelchairs are available from the check in counter ( not from the alighting platform ) to your seat in the aircraft provided you inform the airline in advance, both at the time of booking your tickets as well as again three hours before the flight. While disembarking the airline wheels you from your seat right up to the exit. No separate arrangement is required to be made by you at the other end.
Airline staff however sometimes try to browbeat severely disabled passengers who they perceive may hold up their flight by demanding a medical certificate certifying the passenger is fit to fly. As per the Air India website, a medical certificate is required only under four circumstances ; if the passenger is on a stretcher, if the passenger requires oxygen in flight, if the passenger needs additional leg room and if the passenger needs medical equipment on board. In no other case is a medical certificate called for.
Regarding carriage of wheelchairs airlines have a number of restrictions if the chair is battery operated. For manually operated wheelchairs there are no restrictions; Air India clearly says in its website that there is no charge on carrying of wheelchairs. In the case of Indigo I was pleasantly surprised to find that no charge was levied though their website says nothing on carrying wheelchairs free of cost.
Indigo also has provision for pre booking seats of ones choice, albeit at a premium. Seats in the first row, which have a little more leg room and less distance to walk go for an extra Rs 500/- per seat.
Airline websites clearly state that while cabin staff can assist disabled passengers up to the toilet door, they cannot help inside the toilet. In case such help is needed then the passenger needs to be accompanied by a helper.
Calcutta and Chennai airports have separate toilets for the disabled as do all the larger airports in the country I am sure. Unfortunately there is no place where a disabled person can lie down and have his / her diaper changed even though most flights from door step to door step take anything between 5 to 7 hours. Further more, wheelchair users are required to report one hour earlier than the others. Restricting fluid intake on the day of the journey, wearing an extra heavy diaper with an additional inner pad and carrying a molly sheet or disposable under pad is how we manage. Not a pleasant experience