Chennai: For T M N Deepak, an activist with an orthopedic disability, what should have been a pleasure trip turned into a nightmare on Sunday. Despite repeated pleas with the authorities at the Aringar Anna Zoological Park (AAZP) in Vandalur for letting his friend accompany him on the battery car operated in the zoo, officials refused to heed the request, forcing him to leave the premises in protest against the insensitivity. This incident has now prompted the Zoo Director to issue a written instruction to his staff that henceforth, differently-abled persons should be treated with more sensitivity and those escorting them should not be denied access to the battery-operated vehicle.
According to Deepak, who is the vice-president of the Tamil Nadu Differently-abled Federation, he along with a friend, who was a non-disabled person, decided to visit the zoo on Sunday after a gap of eight years. After they bought the necessary tickets for entry, they inquired about the facilities available for differently-abled persons to move around the zoo. When they were informed that several battery-operated cars were functioning, they decided to avail the service. However, when Deepak went to the specific counter to get the tickets for the vehicle, he was informed there was only one seat left in the stationed car and his friend could not be accommodated. “I tried to convince them saying that given the state of my health, I would not be in a position to move around the park alone and will need the escort,” said Deepak.
But the officials at the counter flatly refused to entertain his request and allegedly answered him in harsh language. “This is when I decided to move to the Ranger’s Office to protest. Even there, the two officers in charge refused to accompany me to the counter and sort out the issue,” he said. When he got back to the counter, Deepak was shocked to find that four tickets were readily issued to another person.
What should have been a pleasure trip turned into a nightmare for an activist with orthopedic disability.
No explanation on how the four extra seats suddenly became available was given to Deepak. “After 45 minutes, I left the place in disgust and this spoiled my entire weekend,” he said. While this insensitivity was largely the result of the attitude of the staff, Deepak said the zoo had a lot more to do if people with disability were to feel comfortable on the premises.
For example, neither the battery-operated car nor the vans used for lion safari have any disabled-friendly seats. Nor are there any special ticket counters for the elderly and the differently-abled. Zoo Director KSSVP Reddy said after the incident was brought to his notice, he had issued written instructions to ensure it was not repeated in future. “The issue is that we have very few battery-operated cars compared to the demand,” he pointed out.
All suggestions, including a special seat for the differently-abled in the vehicles, will be factored in when the zoo buys the next set of such cars and buses. “The lion safari buses we have are older ones. We are planning to obtain new ones soon and will ensure such facilities are available,” he added.