Restaurants and transport can be problematic, says wheelchair user

One woman in a wheelchair says she gets many stares on Dubai Metro and that people need to be educated on disabilities.

Shobhika Kalra, Wings of Angelz co-founder, believed that wheelchair users were discriminated against in general owing to the lack of accessiblity in public places. The Indian said she would like to see more ramps built to rectify the situation. Satish Kumar / The National
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DUBAI // When Shobhika Kalra went out with friends to try a Japanese eaterie she was mortified when inadequate access meant four people had to lift her into the restaurant.

“Everyone was staring,” she said. “It completely spoilt my mood. I had gone there to have fun but I was so conscious after that.

“When I feel dependent on other people I don’t like it.”

Ms Kalra said while many hotels have rooms equipped for the disabled, the same benefits for wheelchair users were often not afforded in restaurants.

“Many are not even aware that they may have customers in wheelchairs,” said the Indian.

In her day-to-day routine Ms Kalra, who has been in a wheelchair for 13 years, often faces obstacles.

“There are many places that are not user-friendly,” she said. “Public transport in Dubai is wheelchair friendly, but buses in Abu Dhabi don’t have ramps.

“I also rarely travel by taxi because I don’t think the taxis over here have portable ramps.”

When she sets off from her home in Dubai every day, Ms Kalra faces a 15-minute journey in her wheelchair to the Rashidiya metro station, from where she travels to her work as a behavioural research analyst at the Eduscan Researcher Educational Institute.

There are small improvements that would make a big difference in her everyday life, such as having a hold button outside – rather than inside – a lift, to delay the door closing so she can navigate her way in with ease and not rely on someone else holding the doors open for her.

A fleet of wheelchair-accessible taxis would also be beneficial, said Ms Kalra.

“I get a normal taxi but then I have to ask them to fold my chair and to take out my battery, so it’s a bit of a pain. I prefer the metro.”

Ms Kalra used to find difficulties because of a lack of ramps at her nearest metro station, although after raising the problem with the RTA, this has since been resolved.

The 25-year-old, who was raised in Abu Dhabi and went to the Abu Dhabi Indian School, finds she is often the only person in a wheelchair on the metro, which she feels makes her the subject of many glances from other travellers.

She would like to see more education – starting in schools – so the general public would be better informed of how to interact with the disabled.

“People are so unaware,” she said. “When they see a person in a wheelchair, they don’t know if they should even speak to that person.

“Once greater awareness comes, I think everything will fall into place – including accessibility.”